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How Merger Between Netanyahu's Biggest Rivals Will Affect Israel's Election

Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz have just joined forces, forming a new center-left bloc. What does this mean for voters, and how can the new alliance tip the power balance?

Gantz and Lapid embrace
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What are the main agreements between Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid?

The two parties, Yesh Atid and Hosen L'Yisrael, will run on a joint slate in the upcoming election. If the parties form the next government, then Gantz will be prime minister for the first two and a half years of the term and then Lapid will assume the role for the second half.  

The parties also announced that former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Lt. General (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, will join the slate. Moshe Ya’alon, the former defense minister and head of the Telem party, will be in the third spot on the joint list and most likely Ashkenazi will follow him in the fourth spot, with Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn in the fifth slot on the combined Knesset slate.

>> Read more: Going low like Netanyahu, Gantz delivers aggressive insults in hope of reviving momentum | Analysis ■ Benny Gantz, the general coming to end the Netanyahu era

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Will Ashkenazi joining the party strengthen it?

Ashkenazi is considered to be a particularly strong figure for the new, united party. Recent polls show that he can tip the balance of power between the two major electoral blocs and his presence on the joint Knesset slate could shift votes from the right-wing bloc to the center – and significantly raise the chances of his party forming the next government.

Former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. General (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi at the Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, January 27, 2019.
Ofer Vaknin

Are other parties expected to join Gantz and Lapid at the last minute?

It seems unlikely that others will join, but the deadline for any changes is 10 P.M. on Thursday, the latest the parties can file their slates for the election with the Central Elections Committee. Until then, anything is possible.

Gantz had negotiated with Gesher party chairwoman Orly Levi-Abekasis in recent weeks, but on Wednesday she announced her party would run on its own in the April 9 election. “It is so disappointing to see that the man who heralded new and clean politics has failed in his first test: The test of truth,” said Levi-Abekasis. Still, she has not yet submitted her slate to the Elections Committee – but the merger between Gantz and Lapid has closed the door on her because legally she is unable to run together with an existing party after she split off from Yisrael Beiteinu.  

What are Gantz and Lapid trying to achieve by uniting their parties?

The goal is to win as many votes as possible from the right-wing bloc and increase the number of center-left Knesset seats, enabling Gantz to form the next government as prime minister.

Who will lose from the merger?

The new party’s campaign could seriously harm Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, which is teetering on the brink of not passing the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent and entering the Knesset. A number of “soft-right” voters could be pulled in from Likud and also Habayit Hayehudi, after the latter party agreed to a controversial joint slate with the far-right Otzma Yehudit.

Who will profit from the new joint party?

A campaign with a limited right-wing character by the new party could strengthen the left-wing parties Labor and Meretz because some left-wing voters, who will not identify with the new message, might abandon Gantz and Lapid. Labor and Meretz have both reached new lows of support in recent weeks, keeping only their die-hard supporters who would not leave them for any other party. Since its primary, Labor has recovered a little in the polls and some polls show the party as rebounding to 10 Knesset seats.

Will the union affect the distribution of votes within the large political blocs?

Because of the expected movement of voters from the right to the center-left bloc, and voters from the center to the left-wing parties, left-wing voters could well strengthen the new party hoping to change the government and replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However it is still unclear at this stage whether the move will redistribute the votes between the two main political blocs.