Labor Chief: Livni Refused to Rule Out Joining Netanyahu Government

Asked why he chose to break up Zionist Union publicly, Avi Gabbay said: In the hood I learned that if they beat you up you hit back and don't run off to make peace

Labor Party head Avi Gabbay, September 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Labor Party head Avi Gabbay said in an interview Thursday that Tzipi Livni, his former partner in the Zionist Union, refused to rule out joining a future coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Tuesday Gabbay took Livni by suprise when he announced in a press conference Zionist Union's disbandment. Zionist Union, an alliance between Labor and Hatnuah formed in December 2014, had won 24 seats in the 2015 election but has tanked in recent polls to as low as nine seats ahead of the April 9 election.

"I won't enter a government headed by Netanyahu because he doesn't want to make a change. And Tzipi isn't there. She wouldn't say those things. It's a big gap," Gabbay, who spoke with Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, said in the first public remarks following the break up.

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Asked why he chose to break up the partnership in a public way, Gabbay said: "I grew up in the hood. And in the hood I learned that if they beat you up you hit back and don't run off to make peace."

In the interview Thursday, Gabbay added that he understood that the link with Livni "would not contribute to victory," saying that "if she's not a real partner, if she's not loyal and doesn't stand by agreements, it's pointless."

Meanwhile, Labor lawmaker Eitan Cabel called on Gabbay to vacate his seat, telling Army Radio on Thursday that in the business world, where Gabbay had come from before entering politics, the Labor chair "would have already handed over the keys." Cabel warned against the "disappearance of a magnificent party."

Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Labor) backed Cabel, saying she too would like to see him replaced, although she'd prefer "to do it with him, not against him." 

In addition, Labor Party members have begun collecting signatures with the goal of ousting Gabbay.

In polls taken since Gabbay's announcement, Labor is expected to take seven to eight Knesset seats with Livni's Hatnuah teetering on the edge of passing the 3.25 percent threshold, with one poll saying she wouldn't make it in and another giving her five Knesset seats.