Gantz and Lapid Present Joint Slate as Polls Thrust Them Ahead of Likud

Benny Gantz calls for 'national reconciliation instead of incitement' in first press conference since announcing merger with Yair Lapid to form Kahol Lavan

Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid deliver a joint press conference after announcing the launch of their joint party, Blue and White, February 21, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

The newly-formed alliance between Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, Kahol Lavan, would overtake Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud if a general election was held today, polls conducted by Channel 12, 13 and Israel's public broadcaster, Kan, showed on Thursday evening.

Just hours after Gantz and Lapid announced the formation of Kahol Lavan, Channel 12's poll showed the union would get 36 seats in the next Knesset, while Likud would receive 30.

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Channel 13's poll, meanwhile, predicted Kahol Lavan would get 36 seats, compared to 26 for Likud. Kan's poll also put Kahol Lavan on first place, with 35 seats, with Likud coming in second with 32.

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In his first press conference since announcing the joint party, Gantz said in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening that "Israel has lost its way," adding that "we are here tonight to say 'enough.'"

Gantz, a former Israeli army chief of staff who founded the party Hosen L'Yisrael before merging with Lapid, called for diplomacy instead of extremism and "national reconciliation instead of incitement."

According to Gantz, "something has gone awry in the last decade, because Israel lost its way. This is a divide-and-conquer government that tears people apart." Gantz said he and Lapid "set our egos aside in favor of a shared agenda. Neither of us are above the people nor above the state. On April 9 we're going to win the election, big time."

"We see the Haredi community as an inseparable part of Israeli society and call for mutual respect. We will prove we want and can live and work together," Gantz said.

Lapid, for his part, called the Kahol Lavan a "wall of hope," saying, "Today we established a ruling party." He criticized Netanyahu for forming an "extremist" union with the far-right nationalist parties, and said the alliance was formed to confront the "bad spirits" pervading Israeli society and discourse.

Channel 12 also asked respondents who they preferred as prime minister. Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed said they would rather see Netanyahu stay in the Prime Minister's Office, while 36 percent said they favored Gantz and Lapid.

Netanyahu addressed the new alliance shortly after Gantz and Lapid's press conference and accused the duo of "relying on Arab parties who not only don't recognize the State of Israel," but want to destroy it.

Netanyahu said Israel has already seen such a scenario of "leftist generals," giving former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the "Oslo disaster" as an example.

Netanyahu stressed Israel's situation has never been better diplomatically, citing burgeoning Arab ties and the U.S. decision to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem