'Netanyahu Failed, We Succeeded': Gantz Says Talks Underway to Form Unity Government

Kahol Lavan leader speaks to supporters after exit polls show center-left party overtakes Netanyahu's Likud

Benny Gantz speaks at Kahol Lavan HQ after exit polls show him taking the lead in Israel's election, September 18, 2019.
Ilan Assayag

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz told supporters late Tuesday night that he had already reached out to the heads of the two Zionist left-wing parties — Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Union — to begin talks to establish a unity government. He said he also intended to reach out to Avigdor Lieberman, the head of Yisrael Beiteinu.

“I plan to speak to everyone,” he said, as he greeted and thanked hundreds of supporters gathered in Tel Aviv for a post-election rally, urging them to wait patiently for the final results.

He did not mention, however, reaching out to the Joint List of Arab parties, which was one of the big surprises of the election — emerging as the third largest party, according to the exit polls. After his speech, Gantz spoke to Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, on the phone.

Average exit poll results

The Kahol Lavan leader said his top objective in the aftermath of the election would be to heal the divisions in Israeli society. “I promise tonight to start the journey of repairing Israeli society,” he said.

>> Read more: Who is Benny Gantz, the former general who just overtook Netanyahu

“We’ll look for common ground among our citizens and recite a common prayer,” he added.

Gantz described Israeli society as an injured body in need of healing. “We are one people and one society,” he said. “The polarization and divisions are now behind us,” he said.

Gantz and other leaders of Kahol Lavan arrived at the Tel Aviv port facility where the rally was held after 2 A.M. It was more than four hours after exit polls were published on Israel’s three television stations, indicating that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not have a clear majority to form the next government. According to two of the three polls, Gantz’s party was the largest vote-winner.

Addressing his political rivals, Gantz said: “It is time to put our differences behind us and work together for a more just and equal society.”

Gantz and the other leaders of Kahol Lavan refrained from declaring outright victory — apparently having learned their lesson from the previous election in April when they prematurely rushed to do so.

Kahol Lavan supporters at the party's HQ in Tel Aviv, September 18, 2019.
Meged Gozani

The mood at the gathering before the party leaders arrived was unusually subdued, considering the exit polls that were largely favorable from their perspective. The large auditorium was also relatively empty for most of the night.

Yair Lapid, Kahol Lavan's second-in-command, called on supporters to wait patiently for the final election results but said it was already clear that “our citizens are better than their politicians and better than their politics.”

“After the final results are out, we will reconvene,” he said. “We need patience. We have had a long and difficult journey, and we need to wait patiently for the final results. But as it looks, Netanyahu did not achieve what he set out to do. We, by contrast, who had this idea called Kahol Lavan, which we set up just six months ago, succeeded big time and are here to stay.”

Earlier Tuesday, Gantz decided to assemble a special team to handle the party's coalition negotiations, Kahol Lavan said, adding that the team has already started work.

A national unity government could avoid or resolve a stalemate if a Likud-led right-wing coalition or a Kahol Lavan-led center-left alliance prove impossible.

Gantz has said his party would not join a government with Netanyahu in it, citing the prime minister's impending corruption cases.