Ya’alon splits from Lapid’s Yesh Atid, is expected to attempt independent run

Yair Lapid tweets: ‘I value and respect Moshe Ya’alon very much and wish him luck,’ as yet another party is expected to join the already-crowded field of the March election

MKs Yair Lapid (L) and Moshe Ya'alon attend a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on December 2, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
MKs Yair Lapid (L) and Moshe Ya'alon attend a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on December 2, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon has decided to run separately from Yesh Atid in the next election, and his Telem party will contend independently in an already-crowded field, multiple media reports indicated Saturday

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid confirmed that Ya’alon would not be running with his party, tweeting: “I value and respect Moshe Ya’alon very much and wish him luck.”

Reports this week indicated that Ya’alon and Lapid had been unable to come to an agreement on the terms of a continued partnership.

Though polling has not yet been done this election cycle on an independent Telem run, conventional wisdom is that Ya’alon will be hard-pressed to win enough votes to enter the Knesset on his own.

In the previous election, Telem and Yesh Atid ran on a joint slate with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, an alliance known as Blue and White. One of its campaign slogans was “There is no more right or left, only Israel before all else.”

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz (second left) with colleagues (from right) Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi at party headquarters on election night, in Tel Aviv, early September 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The party broke apart when Gantz decided to enter a coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May 2020, 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 coronavirus pandemic. Ya’alon and Lapid insisted that Netanyahu could not be trusted and would always place his personal interests, and his effort to evade prosecution from the criminal indictments he’s facing, over the greater good.

Gantz’s party continued under the moniker Blue and White, while Ya’alon and Lapid went to the opposition under Yesh Atid-Telem.

Despite Netanyahu and Gantz reaching a deal that was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, a loophole in the agreement saw the coalition collapse due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.

Last month, Ya’alon said he would run in elections with a separate party and have ex-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot as his number two. Eisenkot, however, has reportedly told associates that he has decided not to enter politics for now and will not run in the upcoming elections.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (left), and then-Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot when Eisenkot learned he had won the appointment to head the Israel Defense Forces, November 27, 2014. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)

At the time, 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 win 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 terms 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 a December 4 interview.

Ya’alon will be joining a crowded field, with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, former Finance Ministry accountant-general Yaron Zelekha, former Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, former head of the Mossad intelligence agency Danny Yatom and former Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar all establishing new parties over the last few weeks, as Israel gears up for a fourth election in two years.

While a number of parties are undergoing splits, others are seeking to merge, with Yamina currently in negotiations with the Jewish Home faction, whose lone representative in the current Knesset, Rafi Peretz, jumped ship to become minister for Jerusalem affairs when Yamina stayed in the opposition.

“We are negotiating… to restore unity to religious Zionism,” Jewish Home said in a statement.

But Yamina concurrently lost another partner — Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union.

Party leader Naftali Bennett leads the New Right faction within Yamina, which is relatively liberal on matters of religion-and-state and is looking to expand the party’s appeal beyond religious voters as part of Bennett’s declared run for prime minister. Smotrich’s faction is far more conservative.

Smotrich intends to rebrand National Union as the Religious Zionism party. He is currently not expected to pass the electoral threshold in an independent run.

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