Ya’alon says planning on forming new party with ex-IDF chief Eisenkot as No. 2

But reports say former army chief is undecided on entering politics and has not committed to Ya’alon, who plans to split from current alliance with Yesh Atid

Outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon meets with IDF Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot in his Tel Aviv office on Sunday, May 22, 2016 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon meets with IDF Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot in his Tel Aviv office on Sunday, May 22, 2016 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said Friday that he would run in elections with a separate party and have ex-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot as his number two.

Ya’alon, himself a former IDF chief, currently heads the Telem faction united with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.

In an interview with Channel 12, Yaalon said Eisenkot would make a final decision only after elections are officially called. However, Ya’alon said that he had been talking to Eisenkot and that the ex-army chief was likely to decide to join Telem.

At the same time, Channel 13 cited sources close to Eisenkot denying that the former IDF chief has decided to join forces with Ya’alon, while Channel 12 commentators also said Eisenkot has not yet decided if he will go into politics or not.

Channel 13 also said that Eisenkot had received offers to join Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina parties.

Eisenkot, who led the IDF from 2015-19, is perhaps most well known for the firm stance he took as army chief in favor of prosecuting Elor Azaria, a soldier who was filmed shooting dead an already neutralized Palestinian attacker in the flashpoint Wet Bank city of Hebron.

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya’s annual conference on September 10, 2020. (Screen capture: IDC)

Ya’alon explained that upon evaluating the political field, he came to the conclusion that in its current form, the anti-Netanyahu camp would not be able to receive more than 55 or so Knesset seats. Accordingly, a new political alliance would have to be created.

“We need a force that will speak to an audience that does not think in the matter of right or left, but honest or corrupt, truth over falsehood and that is what I am aiming for in the run-up to the election,” he told Channel 12.

In the previous election, Telem and Yesh Atid ran on a joint slate with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party labeled Blue and White. One of their campaign slogans was “there is no more right or left, only Israel before all else.”

The party broke apart when Gantz decided to enter a coalition with Netanyahu, citing the need to prevent a fourth consecutive election by forming a unity government that could tackle the health and economic crises caused by the pandemic. Ya’alon and Lapid have insisted that despite the circumstances, Netanyahu could not be trusted and that he would always place his personal interests and his effort to evade prosecution from the criminal indictments he’s facing over the greater national good.

Roughly six months later, that government teeters on the brink as Gantz is threatening to dissolve the parliament if Netanyahu refuses to uphold their agreement to pass a budget for 2021 — the one loophole in the coalition deal that would allow the Likud leader to rob Gantz of becoming prime minister in November of next year.

Speaking to Channel 12, Ya’alon said Eisenkot had “learned the lesson of Benny Gantz,” arguing that the experiment of an ex-general jumping into politics and immediately seeking to lead a party aimed at reaching the prime minister’s office had failed.

Blue and White party leaders, from left to right: Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi. Tel Aviv, March 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“If [Eisenkot] enters [politics], then it is clear that he will join my party and I will lead,” he said.

“One needs to acquire some political, ministerial experience, which I have and he does not. He is an excellent man, but yes, this is a different arena than the military arena,” said Ya’alon, who served in the Likud for several years before breaking with Netanyahu.

The former defense minister asserted that Gantz would never become prime minister and the past six months as Blue and White chairman proved that he is not cut out for the role.

Ya’alon acknowledged that there was a degree of deja vu in his proposal of a new party led by male, former military generals, but he insisted that the result would be different if those at the helm stuck with their principles.

Explaining the need to split from Yesh Atid, Ya’alon hinted that Lapid’s party had been branded as anti-religious and that running separately from him would allow Telem to attract voters from Bennett’s national religious Yamina who are also looking for Netanyahu to be replaced. Because unlike Yamina, Ya’alon argued, Telem would not join a coalition with Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, November 23, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool)

On Thursday, Channel 12 released a poll indicating that Yesh Atid-Telem and Blue and White would receive more seats if they run separately than if they rejoin forces once again. The survey predicted Lapid’s party would receive 17 seats if elections were held today and that Blue and White would win 10 seats. If the two ran together they would receive 25. If the two centrist parties run together this would still be more than the fast-rising Yamina party which according to the poll would win 21 seats with Netanyahu’s Likud gaining 31 seats. If Blue and White and Yesh Atid-Telem run separately, Yamina would receive 22 seats and Likud 30.

As for the remaining parties, the poll indicated that the majority-Arab Joint List — which is experiencing its own fracturing as of late — would receive 12 seats, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties would receive eight seats apiece, Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing, secular Yisrael Beytenu party would receive seven seats and the left-wing Meretz party with seven as well. As for the center-left Labor, and right-wing Gesher, Derech Eretz and Jewish home parties, the poll predicted that they would all fail to cross the electoral threshold.

Moreover, the survey revealed that despite 40% of Israelis fingering Netanyahu as responsible for the increasingly likely fourth election in less than two years, compared to the 20% who blame Gantz, 33% still say that the Likud leader is most suited to serve as prime minister. No other lawmaker received as much support as Netanyahu, with 18% saying Bennett is most qualified, 13% saying Lapid is most qualified and just 7% saying Gantz is most qualified to serve as prime minister.

A Wednesday poll for Channel 13 found that a party led by Eisenkot and including Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and ex-foreign minister Tzipi Livni would snag 15 seats, denting support for nearly every faction, from Shas to the Joint List.

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