Gabbay denies offering Zionist Union top slot to Gantz

Former IDF chiefs Gantz, Ya’alon said in talks to form joint list for election

The two are reportedly looking at combining their new parties into a moderate centrist faction to challenge Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, then-defense minister Moshe Ya'alon, right, and then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, left, at a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, August 27, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, then-defense minister Moshe Ya'alon, right, and then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, left, at a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, August 27, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been holding talks with Moshe Ya’alon, also once the army’s top officer, with a view to forming a new centrist political alliance in elections next year, Hadashot television news reported Wednesday.

The talks were said to be at an “advanced stage” and envision both men as the leaders of their own separate parties, combined together to run in a joint list for the Knesset. Gantz would supposedly lead the faction and the rest of the spots on the list would be filled by alternating between parties.

Gantz has emerged as a dark horse candidate as the election campaigns kick off, with polls indicating either the center-left Zionist Union or centrist Yesh Atid could only present a realistic challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud if Gantz were to join their ranks.

According to the TV report, Gantz is not interested in cooperating with MK Yair Lapid or his Yesh Atid party.

Yitshak Kreiss (Courtesy)

Gantz intends to bring into his party the director of the Sheba Medical Center, Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, a former IDF chief medical officer, Channel 10 news said Wednesday. Also named as potential Gantz party leaders were educator and social activist Chilli Tropper and Michael Biton, the former mayor of the Negev town of Yeruham.

Speaking to Hadashot news on Wednesday, meanwhile, Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay emphatically denied Tuesday media reports that he had offered Gantz the top slot in his faction, and vowed to remain at its helm. Asked three times whether he had offered to step down in Gantz’s favor, Gabbay said a firm “no” each time.

Gabbay heads the Labor Party, which along with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua makes up the Zionist Union faction.

Though he has yet to publicly announce his intentions, reports have said Gantz will establish his own party, a decision expected to further split the opposition vote.

Then-defense minister Moshe Yaalon, left, seen with then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, April 11, 2013. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense/Flash90)

Ya’alon on Tuesday announced that he intends to set up his own new party while former prime minister Ehud Barak — also a previous commander of the IDF — said Monday he may resurrect his political career if a center-left political bloc was formed to challenge the premier.

A poll published Tuesday found Likud as the top vote-getter among all parties in early Knesset elections, with a theoretical party led by Lapid and Gantz seen as the only one managing to challenge Netanyahu’s plans for a fourth straight term.

If Gantz were to join a Lapid-led Yesh Atid, the opposition party would win 26 seats, according to the poll published by the Walla news site, five behind Likud at 31.

If Gantz heads his own party, it would finish second among all parties with 14 seats, less than half the Likud’s projected total of 31, the poll found. Yesh Atid would finish behind Gantz’s party with 12 seats.

However, if Gantz does not end up running in the elections, the poll said Likud would pick up 32 seats, with Yesh Atid in a distant second with 17.

Speculation over Gantz’s political future has swirled this year with the expiration of his legally required “cooling off” period, under which former top security officials must wait three years after retiring before entering politics.

Head of the Zionist Union faction Avi Gabbay speaks at the Globes business newspaper conference, in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz, 59, left the military in 2015 after a four-year stint as head of the Israel Defense Forces that saw him command the 2014 Gaza war.

Ya’alon, a hawkish former IDF chief of staff and former Likud member, has vowed to challenge Netanyahu since he was ousted from the Defense Ministry in 2016 by the prime minister, to be replaced by Avigdor Liberman. He quit the ruling Likud party and the Knesset shortly thereafter, and has since frequently criticized Netanyahu and indicated he will return to politics to run against him.

Recent polls have predicted the Zionist Union, which currently is the second largest Knesset faction, could fall to 9 seats in the next elections, leading to grumbling that Gabbay should step aside in favor of a candidate who could pick up more votes. Gabbay said Wednesday he would not give up the party leadership and that he was confident of defeating Netanyahu.

Lawmakers on Wednesday voted to dissolve the Knesset, with elections set for April 9, 2019. Earlier this week, the ruling coalition announced its decision to bring forward the election from its scheduled date in November of next year.

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