Lapid says he’s had no contact with Gantz, Ashkenazi since stormy split

Days before final deadline for parties to merge ahead of March election, Yesh Atid leader signals an alliance with his partners-turned-rivals is not in the offing

From left: Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya'alon, Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White party at its official campaign launch in Shefayim, July 14, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
From left: Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya'alon, Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White party at its official campaign launch in Shefayim, July 14, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Saturday said there had been no contact between him and Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi since his former partners joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government last year.

The opposition leader’s comments came days before a final deadline to register political parties for the March elections, amid speculation that a handful of center-left parties — including, possibly, Blue and White and Yesh Atid — could clinch last-minute mergers to improve their chances in the national vote.

“I haven’t spoken to him [Ashkenazi] or Benny since they broke up Blue and White and sat with Netanyahu,” Lapid told Channel 13 in an interview.

Lapid told the station that the breakup with Gantz taught Yesh Atid that “we can only rely on ourselves” and predicted that several medium-sized parties would form the next government, rather than Netanyahu’s Likud.

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz (R) and No. 2 Yair Lapid at a faction meeting in the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Gantz, who entered politics two years ago vowing to replace Netanyahu, merged his nascent Israel Resilience party with Yesh Atid to form Blue and White under his leadership, and narrowly failed in three elections to form a coalition without Netanyahu’s Likud. While he campaigned on the promise that he would not serve in a government with Netanyahu so long as the prime minister faces corruption charges, Gantz agreed to do just that in late March, and formed a unity government with Netanyahu in May.

Furious, Yesh Atid and a second minor faction (Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem) broke away from Blue and White and went into the opposition. Blue and White has watched its popularity plummet since, leading to a hemorrhaging of lawmakers who have left the party since elections were called last month. Ya’alon has also left Yesh Atid to run independently in the March vote, while Ashkenazi has announced a break from political life.

Lapid has castigated Gantz relentlessly for joining the now-collapsed Netanyahu coalition, accusing him of stealing the votes that gave the Blue and White alliance 35 seats in the March 2020 elections and handing them to Netanyahu in breach of the core Blue and White commitment not to sit in government with a prime minister on trial for corruption.

Blue and White party leaders, from the left, Gabi Ashkenazi, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon greet their supporters at party headquarters after the first results of the elections in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Ahead of the next election, Gantz recently indicated he was willing to let Lapid lead an alliance of parties opposing Netanyahu. “Yair has come a very long way in Israeli politics and he can stand at the head of the [center-left] bloc. He has come a long way, and if that is what we decide, then yes,” Gantz said.

Earlier this month, Gantz also expressed regret for having said that Lapid, who leads the opposition, “hates people.” Looking into the camera to directly address Lapid, Gantz said, “I am sorry for what was said. What was said in the past belongs in the past, the future is unity.” He maintained that what the two have in common is greater than what divides them but would not be drawn into saying whether he would agree to be Lapid’s No. 2 if they ran on a joint slate, despite having earlier the same day indicated that he would.

Lapid has in the past said he would be open to a possible union with Gantz once more, but only if he himself leads the slate.

Recent polls have indicated Yesh Atid would be the second or third-largest party, while Blue and White hovered near the electoral threshold.

The March 23 elections will be the fourth round of voting in two years. They were triggered in late December after Netanyahu refused to pass a state budget, because that enabled him to escape his pledge, in his coalition deal, to hand over the prime ministership to Gantz in November 2021.

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