Blue and White will outscore Likud, form next coalition, several top figures say

Yesh Atid MK says parties that have ruled out sitting with Gantz will change their tune after elections; Labor Party lawmakers also signal backing for ex-general

Left to right: Blue and White party leaders Gabi Ashkenazi, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya'alon visit a shopping center in the southern port city of Ashdod on March 8, 2019. (Flash90)
Left to right: Blue and White party leaders Gabi Ashkenazi, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya'alon visit a shopping center in the southern port city of Ashdod on March 8, 2019. (Flash90)

Israeli opposition figures expressed optimism on Saturday that the Blue and White party will be tasked with forming the next government after the elections in April, ending a decade of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s domination of Israeli politics.

Blue and White, an alliance between former military chief Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid parties, has been outpolling the ruling Likud party ahead of the April 9 vote, though most polls show it would struggle to cobble together a majority government without support from Netanyahu’s right-wing and religious coalition partners.

Despite these headwinds, Blue and White members sounded confident on Saturday that President Reuven Rivlin will tap Gantz to form the next government.

“If there is a gap [in the number of seats] like there is today — or even bigger — the president will call on Gantz,” Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah was quoted saying by the Kan public broadcaster. Blue and White is polling at around 35 seats, ahead of Likud’s 30.

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah (R) at a cultural event in Mevaseret Zion on March 9, 2019. (Yesh Atid)

Acknowledging that current coalition parties have ruled out joining a Gantz-led government, Shelah said they will change their tune if the retired general is tapped to form a ruling majority.

“We saw how the ultra-Orthodox look in the opposition. They’ll at least come to talk, and I say this on this basis of things I know,” he said.

Under Israeli law, the president consults with leading members of all Knesset parties after the elections, and then asks the politician deemed to have the best chance of forming a government to begin coalition negotiations; this individual need not necessarily be the head of the largest party.

Ram Ben-Barak, a Blue and White candidate and former deputy chief of the Mossad spy agency, said Saturday the Gantz-Lapid led electoral alliance was “the only alternative” to Netanyahu.

“Netanyahu isn’t worthy of being prime minister. The ideal coalition is Likud without Netanyahu, Labor and whoever else wants to join,” he said at an event in the northern town of Kiryat Tivon.

Ben-Barak reiterated Blue and White would not sit in a government with Netanyahu, who is facing criminal charges in three corruption cases, pending a hearing, or with parties that do not support Israel’s existence. Gantz and Lapid have said they would reach out to partner with a post-Netanyahu Likud, however.

Former news anchor Miki Haimovich, another Blue and White hopeful, also sounded buoyant about the party’s ability to replace Netanyahu.

“In the upcoming elections, there is an opportunity that was not there in the past, an opportunity to have a new government that works for the citizens,” she said at a cultural event in the central city of Givat Shmuel.

“The people want this change,” Haimovich added.

Blue and White party candidate Miki Haimovich at a cultural event in Givat Shmuel on March 9, 2019. (Yesh Atid)

Speaking at the same event, Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich said her party would “definitely” recommend Gantz as the next premier.

“On the one hand, I really want to succeed in changing the government, but on other hand, I worry about my party,” the Walla news site reported her saying.

Labor Party, long a power in Israeli politics, has slumped from its current 19 seats to single digits in most polls, amid factional infighting and the rise in Gantz’s popularity.

In a recognition of the party’s decline, Labor MK Omer Barlev said it would play a leading role in a Gantz-led coalition.

“The president will task Benny Gantz with forming a government and a strong Labor Party will be the conscience and social and diplomatic compass within the ideological chaos that is Blue and White,” he was quoted saying by Kan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Tzachi Hanegbi during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on February 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite the confidence on the center-left, Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi stressed the election would be a “battle of the blocs” and held out the hope the ruling party would be able to stitch together a coalition.

According to Kan, Hanegbi also said he was optimistic that a number of smaller right-wing parties will pass the minimum 3.25% electoral threshold needed to enter the 120-member Knesset and thus bolster Netanyahu’s chance to continue as prime minister after elections.

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