Benny Gantz Joins Forces With ex-Defense Minister Ya'alon Ahead of Campaign Launch

The two generals have been discussing a merger for weeks ■ Gantz to reveal party platform as Ya'alon walks back on vow not to enter a Netanyahu coalition

Former Israel Defense Force chief Benny Gantz and ex-Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
Ariel Hermony / Defense Ministry

Update: Benny Gantz breaks silence: Netanyahu is no king, can't keep seat if indicted

Former Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz and ex-Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon agreed Tuesday to merge their parties in the upcoming election, in a bid to offer Israeli voters an alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Gantz is expected to formally declare his candidacy for prime minister later today, announcing the platform of the party he registered in December, Hosen L’Yisrael.

Hosen L'Yisrael sources have confirmed that progress had been made with Ya'alon's Telem party, saying negotiations have not ended. The two parties agreed that at least three spots on the joinst slate would be reserved for Ya'alon's party.

Apart form Ya'alon himself, the two remaining spots are said to be reserved for former Netanyahu spokesman Yoaz Hendel, who resigned in 2011 in the wake of a sexual assault scandal involving the prime minister's bureau chief, and former Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser who resigned two years later.

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Ya'alon confirmed last month reports of negotiations with Gantz, saying "We've been talking… in order to reach a mutual agenda. We're connected by the understanding that what's happening to us from the inside is a main threat to the State of Israel."

Benny Gantz.
IDF Spokesperson's Unit

In a political event in the northern city of Haifa, Ya'alon also vowed not to enter a coalition headed by Netanyahu, whose Likud party he quit in 2016.

However, party sources told Ha'aretz on Tuesday Ya'alon and Gantz have agreed the former wouldn't oppose entering a Netanyahu coalition should Gantz want it, stressting Ya'alon's re-entry to government would be part of a "large political force, unlike in his term as defense minister in the current Netanyahu government, where he was an ordinary Likud member with no significant political power."

Speaking at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Ya'alon said on Tuesday: "We all agree, Benny Gantz and some other friends ... There are many political players taking a stand. I said a party headed by me would not enter a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu."

He refused to confirm the merger with Gantz, only saying, "Let's wait a few hours and the picture will become clear ... For the past two years I've been waiting for the moment we go to election, and I said in advance I intend on setting up my own team (with) excellent people, and I've been calling all along for mergers in order to set up an alternative." He added he hopes for "more than two mergers" to be announced over the next month.

Ya'alon, who quit Netanyahu's government in protest of the prime minister's "harming the rule of law," sees former underling Gantz as a potentially significant ally in a bid to establish a centralist, moderate party with an emphasis on security issues.

Adding to confrontations between Netanyahu and Ya'alon over the public backing Ya'alon gave senior IDF officials to express their opinions weeks before his resignation, the rift between Ya'alon and significant parts of the Likud central committee and party voters had widened over the obstacles he placed as defense minister to efforts regarding construction in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

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Gantz's launch event will be held at the Tel Aviv Convention Center at 8 P.M., in the hopes that television newscasts will broadcast it live.

Members of Hosen L’Yisrael said Gantz has been working with Hili Tropper, a friend who is expected to run on the party’s slate, to put together a “firm but statesmanlike” 15-minute speech.

In anticipation of the launch, the party has issued a teaser for a campaign ad with its slogan, “Left or right, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about Israel.”

Ahead of the event, Martin Dempsey, a retired U.S. army general whose tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff mirrored that of Gantz as Israeli armed forces chief between 2011 and 2015, told Reuters that he would bring “an open mind to change” and have the “instincts to build a team to solve the most urgent challenges.”

“His silence would likely signal to me that he is carefully and deliberately thinking and learning, preparing to express his views with clarity and confidence, so that he knows who and what he wants to be and do when the political winds begin to blow with greater velocity,” Dempsey said.

Pavilion No. 10, where the event will be held can hold about 500 people. The party says hundreds have registered to attend, including volunteers and people interested in hearing what Gantz has to say. The hall will be set up differently than it is for most political gatherings, inspired by U.S. political conventions: Gantz will stand at a podium in the center, surrounded by the audience.

So far, three people have been given high slots on the party’s slate of candidates: Hili Tropper, an educator; former mayor of Yeruham Michael Biton and Alon Schuster, the former head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.

The Israel Television News Company and Kan public television new reported two weeks ago that former newscaster Miki Haimovich and Asaf Zamir, a former deputy mayor of Tel Aviv would receive spots in the coveted top 10 if they joined Hosen L’Yisrael. Haaretz reported that if Gantz’s predecessor as chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, agreed to join he would likely get the No. 2 slot.

About 10 members of the outgoing Knesset, some of whom had announced that they would not seek re-election, have approached Gantz or his associates seeking a spot on his slate, sources said. But all of them were told the party is not eyeing legislators from the outgoing Knesset.

Two weeks ago, in his first public statement since registering his party over a month ago, Gantz said he would do “anything in his power” to fix the so-called nation-state law.

Speaking to dozens of members of Israel’s Druze minority who gathered outside his home in Rosh Ha’ayin to protest the controversial legislation, Gantz said the law should “express the deep, inseparable connection” between Israel’s Jewish and Druze communities, “not only in combat, but in life, too; not only in hardships, but in good times too. We’ll do it together.”

Gantz was widely criticized by right-wing politicians, especially from Likud, for these remarks. on the right for these remarks, especially by the Likud. The party’s official response was “the real Meretz has revealed itself in left-wing candidate Benny Gantz.”

MK Avi Dichter, who sponsored the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, said Gantz was trying to cozy up to the Druze because of his role in the death of a Druze member of the Border Police in 2000. Gantz was the commander of the army’s West Bank forces when Madhat Yousef was shot near Nablus. He died after the army failed to arrange prompt evacuation over a period of several hours.

Last week Likud politicians attacked Gantz over Yousef’s death. Haaretz reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had defended Gantz on a few occasions over the incident. Investigations cleared high-ranking officers of claims of poor judgment in the case.

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s new party, Hayemin Hehadash (“the new right” in Hebrew) has also attacked Gantz, calling him “the weak left.”

A video shared by Hayemin Hehadash features Gantz saying he put soldiers at risk so that no Palestinian would be hurt in an attack. Bennett says, “It’s better to be condemned for killing those who fly incendiary kites than to lose Israeli children.” In interviews and in the party’s ads on social media, refer to Gantz as “General Stalemate.”

Bennett slammed Gantz on Tuesday, saying his conduct in Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip in 2014 could have spelled disaster for the country.

"If we [members of the security cabinet] had listened to Benny Gantz and Ya'alon in 2014 during Protective Edge, we would have woken up to a terrible catastrophe in the western Negev of dozens of kidnaps into Gaza, hundreds murdered in a terror attacks the likes of which we've never seen," Bennett said.