Top officials in the Yesh Atid party concocted a plan last month to break off from the Blue and White electoral alliance and instead run with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu on a secularist slate, according to sources.
According to polls commissioned by party officials, a Yesh Atid-Yisrael Beytenu joint list would pick up 26-27 seats in the elections, more than the two would receive separately. Liberman, said sources close to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, was aware of the idea and did not reject it outright.
The plan, which was formulated days before the August 1 deadline for parties to submit their list of candidates to the Central Elections Committee, would have shaken up the campaign season and possibly changed the political map in Israel.
It was Lapid himself, however, who ultimately scrapped the plan, the sources said.
“I signed an agreement with [Blue and White leaders] Benny Gantz and [Moshe] Bogie Ya’alon and I can’t violate it. This will also look really bad in the eyes of the public,” the sources quoted Lapid saying.
Sources told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language news site, that the plan was formulated by Hillel Kobrinsky, Lapid’s closest confidant.
Kobrinsky, a brigadier general in the reserves and hi-tech entrepreneur, brought Lapid into political life in 2012, and was behind Yesh Atid’s strong showing in elections a year later, when the party won 19 seats.
Over the years, Kobrinsky has served as Yesh Atid’s campaign chief, was an adviser to Lapid when he was finance minister, and remains a central mover and shaker in the party.
Kobrinsky’s plan was conceived and gathered steam amid simmering tensions between the partners in Blue and White, which is made up of Yesh Atid, Gantz’s Israel Resilience party and Ya’alon’s Telem.
The divides were deeper and more serious than apparent to outside observers, according to the Yesh Atid sources, with suspicions running deep, despite the Blue and White leaders’ brotherly embraces in public, joint statements on the border with the Gaza Strip, and shared meals at one another’s homes. Controversy surrounding Gantz’s Blue and White ally MK Omer Yankelevich, various leaks, and the hunt for a “mole” have not helped build trust between the sides.
Lapid on Sunday denied ever intending to part ways with Gantz.
“There were a thousand people who spoke and raised ideas. There are no shortage of rumors but I’d never break my word or an agreement, definitely not with Benny Gantz, who I believe in and who is my friend,” he told Zman Yisrael.
According to the sources, Lapid and his associates know they have no chance of forming a ruling coalition of center-left and Arab parties after the election. They also assume Gantz will break up Blue and White and team up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the September vote.
“Gantz isn’t going to the opposition,” a Yesh Atid source said. “It’s clear to everyone. Hod Betser [Gantz’s campaign chief] talks almost openly about such a possibility. You hear how Gantz talks about Netanyahu. He has no past scores to settle with him, rather the opposite. Netanyahu appointed him to the position of [IDF] chief of staff and gave him a fourth year, and he’ll be his defense minister.”
Another source said the only major sticking point between Gantz and Netanyahu was granting the premier immunity to avoid prosecution in a series of corruption cases in which the prime minister faces criminal charges, pending a hearing in October.
“Gantz’s condition will be that he won’t support any immunity law. For him, that would be too much. Besides this, he’d have no problem,” the source said.
Meanwhile, Gantz and Ya’alon’s associates continue to claim Lapid is destroying any chances they have of forming a government, because of his insistence on the rotation agreement he signed with Gantz that would see them switch off as prime minister.
Earlier this month, Zman Yisrael reported that Blue and White officials complained about the Blue and White No. 2, saying “Lapid is standing between us and an election victory.”
On Saturday, party officials cited internal polls showing Blue and White would win another six seats if Lapid gave up on the rotation deal and said the pressure on the Yesh Atid chief would not let up until election day on September 17.
Lapid, in an interview with The Times of Israel published Sunday, said he agreed with many of Liberman’s positions on religion and state.
Netanyahu has alleged that Lapid and Liberman are conspiring to remove him from power, with the assistance of figures in his Likud party.
“What is the shady plot? Lapid, Liberman, a few others, they have a shady plot. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is also some of us from the right as well,” Netanyahu said earlier this month. “What’s the plan? They want to fulfill their ambition to be prime ministers, but they have a problem because the public is choosing Likud.”
Lapid responded to the claim by taunting the premier in a tweet: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean we’re not after you.”