'We have not gotten answers on core issues'

Yesh Atid wants more clarity from Gantz if merger to go ahead

Members of Lapid’s party say they don’t know where ex-military chief stands on peacemaking, PM graft cases, deny main concern over tie-up is who leads it

Yair Lapid, left, and Benny Gantz. (Flash90)
Yair Lapid, left, and Benny Gantz. (Flash90)

Lawmakers from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid said Saturday more clarification was needed from former military chief Benny Gantz on his political views before they could agree to a joint election run with his Israel Resilience Party.

With polls predicting a merger of the parties led by Gantz could win more seats than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud — though not necessarily be able to build a majority coalition — pressure has been growing on Yesh Atid and Israel Resilience to join forces ahead of Knesset elections in April.

While confirming Gantz and Lapid were holding “direct talks” on a potential tie-up, MK Ofer Shelah denied the main holdup was over who would head the alliance.

“The questions surrounding the merger are not only who will be in first place and who in second, as is portrayed in the media. Unification is also [about] essential questions on core issues, and until now we have not gotten answers,” he said at a cultural event in Ra’anana.

“I say unequivocally that without answers to these questions there is no unification,” Shelah added.

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90

Ram Ben-Barak, a Yesh Atid candidate and former deputy chief of the Mossad spy agency, said it was unclear if Gantz was still calling the shots after teaming up with hawkish ex-defense chief Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem Party.

“On the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict for example, I don’t know if Israel Resilience is Gantz or Ya’alon,” he said.

“Yesh Atid wants to disengage from the Palestinians and it is desirable this be done in an agreement,” Ben-Barak added.

Though Gantz has stated his commitment to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Ya’alon opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state and members of his party have called to expand West Bank settlement construction.

From left, then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, Maj. Gen. (res.) Orna Barbivai, Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolanski and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz raise a toast in a ceremony as Topolanski takes over as head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, at army headquarters in Tel Aviv on September 8, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

Recent Yesh Atid addition Orna Barbivai said Gantz also needs to clarify whether he would sit in a government with Netanyahu in light of recommendations by police and prosecutors that the prime minister be charged for corruption. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to announce on whether to prosecute Netanyahu, subject to a hearing, in the next few weeks.

“It is unclear to us what Israel Resilience’s stance on this topic, as with other essential matters: [the ultra-Orthodox] conscription law, diplomatic issues, core education [requirements], and others,” Barbivai, a former IDF major general, said at Kibbutz Yagur in northern Israel.

While echoing his fellow Yesh Atid members, MK Meir Cohen made clear who he believes should lead the parties if they combine.

“In my personal opinion Yair and our team with its experience need to lead the parties should there be a merger,” he said at an event in Givat Shmuel.

Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid have until February 21 to announce whether they will run together, since that is when parties must declare their lists of candidates for the April 9 election.

According to a Channel 12 report last week, Lapid proposed to Gantz an alliance that would see the two party chiefs alternate as its leader.

Yesh Atid believes the leadership rotation offer is generous, the report said, but Israel Resilience is not sold on the idea as polls have shown that Gantz’s party could win twice as many seats as Lapid’s.

Though a merger between the parties is forecast to beat Likud, the electoral landscape would likely leave Netanyahu with more potential coalition partners and thus make it difficult for the Israel Resilience-Yesh Atid alliance to form a government.

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