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Top Centrist Netanyahu Rivals Unite for April 9 Elections

Top Centrist Netanyahu Rivals Unite for April 9 Elections

Thursday, 21 February, 2019 - 07:30
Retired military chief Benny Gantz. Reuters file photo
Asharq Al-Awsat
Primary centrist challengers to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined forces on Thursday in a dramatic move that created the first credible alternative to the PM’s decade-long rule.

Retired military chief Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, said they would present a joint list for the April 9 elections that "will constitute the new Israeli ruling party." In a joint statement, the two said they were "motivated by national responsibility."

"The new ruling party will bring forth a cadre of security and social leaders to ensure Israel's security and to reconnect its people and heal the divide within Israeli society," they said.

Gantz heads his recently launched centrist Israel Resilience party, while Lapid leads Yesh Atid, which currently has 11 seats in parliament out of 120.

Recent polls suggest that together, the two could surpass Netanyahu's ruling Likud to become Israel's largest faction after the elections. Under their unity arrangement, the two agreed to a rotation leadership should they come to power under which Gantz would first serve as prime minister and would then later be replaced by Lapid.

Following them in the joint list would be a pair of other former military chiefs, Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Yaalon. Ashkenazi announced he was joining the new party because of the "pivotal moment and the national task at hand."

Even if the joint list surpasses Likud at the ballot box, it is not guaranteed to form the next government unless it can garner a parliamentary majority with other parties. Netanyahu, who is embroiled in multiple corruption allegations and faces a potential impending indictment, has taken a hard turn to the right in recent days to shore up his nationalistic base.

On Wednesday, he said he reached a preliminary election deal with two fringe religious-nationalist parties in a bid to unify his hard-line bloc.

Netanyahu's Likud party announced it would reserve the 28th spot on its parliamentary list for the pro-settler Jewish Home party and grant it two Cabinet ministries in a future government if it merges with the extremist Jewish Power party.

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