Levy-Abekasis said close to joining her party with Israel Resilience

Gantz reportedly assures Gesher that its social issues agenda would be promoted; merger would prevent similar unity deal with Yesh Atid

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis at the Knesset on October 3, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
MK Orly Levy-Abekasis at the Knesset on October 3, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis is reportedly in advanced negotiations to unite her Gesher party with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience for a joint slate in the coming Knesset elections.

Gesher sources told Hebrew media Monday that unless something “dramatic” happens, the alliance will go ahead.

Last week Levy-Abekasis emphatically denied she was in negotiations with Gantz. Days earlier she had slammed Gantz’s party platform, saying it was so badly written that her son could have done better when he was 12.

The progress toward unity came after Gantz committed Israel Resilience to implementing Gesher’s social plan, agreed that the party would be a full partner to negotiations to form a future coalition, and pledged that it would receive cabinet ministries responsible for social affairs, the sources said.

Following the reports, the Likud party released a statement saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was working to ensure a unity deal between various right-wing parties, but not necessarily his own Likud, to prevent “wasted votes” on the right, warning that “Gantz will form a leftist government that will be a devastation for generations to come.”

Specifically, Netanyahu has been seeking to convince the Jewish Home party to join forces with the far-right Otzma Yehudit. Jewish Home has so far rebuffed the prime minister’s attempts.

Israel Resilience party chairman Benny Gantz speaks at the 55th Munich Security Conference in southern Germany, February 17, 2019. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP)

Levy-Abekasis entered the Knesset nine years ago as a member of hawkish Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. But in May 2016, she announced that she would leave the party over its entry into the government, saying that it had abandoned its social platform during negotiations to enter the coalition. She has since been serving as an independent MK in the opposition.

Recent polls have shown that by combining with other centrist or center-left parties Gantz could lead an alliance that would win more seats in the April 9 elections than the ruling Likud, but would still struggle to cobble together a coalition fielding at least 61 out of the 120 Knesset seats. The polls predicted that on its own Gesher would not clear the Knesset threshold of 3.25%, while one poll earlier this month found Gantz would do better to join his party with Gesher than with Yesh Atid, the party predicted to be third-largest after the elections.

A Gesher-Israel Resilience deal would almost certainly put an end to the possibility of an additional merger between Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid.

According to Knesset protocol, leaving a party mid-term prohibits an incumbent MK from running with an already existing party in the next elections. Levy-Abeaksis initially refrained from formally resigning from Yisrael Beytenu but was eventually pushed out by the party, effectively compelling her to form a new platform if she hoped to enter the Knesset again.

With Levy-Abekasis running together with Israel Resilience, the only possibility for a merger of the latter with Yesh Atid would be for the former Yisrael Beytenu MK to agree to a deal that would guarantee her a ministerial spot if the party joins or leads the coalition but leave her off the Knesset slate, or for Yesh Atid to officially disband and have its member MKs officially join Israel Resilience instead.

Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid is said to have offered Gantz a merger deal on condition that they rotate leadership of the resulting joint faction.

Parties have until Thursday to finalize and declare their slates for the coming elections.

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