Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz called on leaders of center-left parties to unite ahead of Israel's March 23 election in order to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – his coalition partner over the past year.
Gantz, addressing the press in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, once again cited the coronavirus crisis as the reason for going into a unity government with Netanyahu, saying: "I shook the hand of the man I vowed to replace... because Israel is at war and I'm its soldier, first and foremost. I was wrong... He cheated me and cheated you."
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"I am calling on everyone to unite," he said, naming all major party leaders who spoke out against Netanyahu, apart from Likud renegade Gideon Sa'ar, Yamina's Naftali Bennett and Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties. "Let's unite and send Bibi home."
"You're going, Bibi, you're going to court," Gantz said, promising to block any attempt for the Likud leader to seek immunity from prosecution in his corruption trial.
Asked whether he would give up leading the bloc if there was a broad alliance, Gantz was evasive. But in a speech two weeks ago, he said that his party "will be part" of an anti-Netanyahu alliance after the March vote.
After Gantz's statement, Netanyahu announced he was delaying a cabinet meeting set for Tuesday, in which ministers were expected to approve the nomination of a permanent police commissioner.
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Responses from Gantz's potential allies were quick to come, with Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman tweeting: "Gantz, we already had a chance to replace Bibi but you chose to be a reserve prime minister. The only thing you can do now for the country is to announce that you are not running for the next Knesset."
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Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, which was formerly part of the Kahol Lavan alliance, seemed to leave the door open, however, tweeting that "every effort will be made to build connections for a sane and liberal government that will change the country."
Several ministers and lawmakers have already left Kahol Lavan since the Knesset dissolved in December. The last of them was Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen, who joined Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid. She succeeded, among others, Minister Yizhar Shai, who joined Moshe Ya'alon's party, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, who is a member of Huldai's party, and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
The vast majority of recent polls on major news outlets give Kahol Lavan five seats. In the latest poll published by Channel 13 News on Friday, the party won only four – on the verge of the 3.25-percent electoral threshold.
Ofer Shelah, a former senior member of Yesh Atid who formed his own party in December, asked for other left-wing leaders to join him on Monday. "Only such a body would stop the frightened run to the right called 'Just Not Bibi,'" Shelah said in a statement addressed to the leaders of the Labor party, as well as Avi Nissenkorn and current Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai.
On the right, the usual pre-election game of alliances is also in full swing. On Monday, Bezalel Smotrich, chairman of the far-right National Union, announced that he would not link up with Yamina for the upcoming election. “Each will go his own way. We’ve gotten started and we’re giving it our all,” he said, in an interview with Channel 12 News.
Yamina said in response that, “Smotrich this evening chose to divide the right. We wish him success in the future.”
Negotiations between Bennet and Smotrich stopped last week, and the two have taken to trading accusations instead. Smotrich is adamant about getting four of the first eight places on the Yamina slate, while Bennett is only willing to offer three of the first 10.
Judy Maltz contributed to this report.