Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu's reelection bid has just hit its most formidable roadblock, making his political future look increasingly bleak. Two key centrist opponents of the Israeli PM have announced an unprecedented alliance in a bid to defeat him in the upcoming April 9 elections.
The groundbreaking move marks the first major threat to Netanyahu's rule in a decade, and comes further at a sensitive moment in which he's facing possible indictment and multiple corruption allegations. Retired military chief Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, now plan to run on a combined ticket in a highly unusual agreement for the pair to rotate as Prime Minister. The plan would see Gantz serve for two-and-a-half years, and Lapid for the same time period following.
They are Netanyahu's two most significant competitors in the election, and the pair said in a joint statement they are "motivated by national responsibility" to combine their powers for the sake of ousting scandal-laden and "divisive" PM Netanyahu.
"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," the statement said.
Gantz already has huge visibility and public appeal as the former head of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), while Lapid is a former popular television host turned politician. What's being dubbed a new "Blue and White alliance" party has the support of other major Israeli generals turned politicians as well.
“Today we are changing the face of Israel,” Gantz said in a speech carried live on national television, according to The Times of Israel. “In the past decade something has gone wrong,” he said.
Gantz continued, “Israel has lost its way. The government has incited division [in Israeli society], it’s a government that divides and rules. We’re here to say, ‘enough.’ Instead of division, we want unity. Instead of extremism, we want dignity. Instead of fraction, we propose national reconciliation.”
And speaking of the launch of the new 'Blue and White' party while also referencing recent scandals embroiling Netanyahu, Yair Lapid described: “We are creating a ruling party. The Israeli public will go to the polls on the 9th of April to choose what kind of country they want, what sort of country their children will live in: a country of investigations, corruption and incitement or a country of hope, resilience and a promise for the future."
He further cast Netanyahu as appealing to the extreme right in Israeli society, saying, "Netanyahu chose [racist rabbi Meir] Kahane’s people as his partners. We choose each other, and more than that, we choose the citizens of Israel."
Netanyahu is currently at the center of three complex scandals, summarized as follows:
In the first of the three cases, Israeli police allege that for years, Netanyahu and his wife Sara received gifts in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of champagne, jewelry and cigars from wealthy individuals in the United States and Australia. In exchange, Netanyahu reportedly tried to extend tax exemption legislation that would have benefitted at least one of the men involved.
In the second case, one of Netanyahu’s aides recorded lengthy conversations between the prime minister and the head of Israel’s largest opposition paper, in which they discussed making a deal where the paper would be less critical of Netanyahu.
[Third] On December 2, Israeli police accused Netanyahu of trading regulatory favors for positive media coverage of himself and his family. Over a period of five years, the prime minister reportedly intervened in the day-to-day coverage and affairs of Walla!, a news website run by the country’s telecommunications company, Bezeq.
In return, Netanyahu — in his role as minister of communications, which is one of his titles — rewarded the company by using his political power to give them more favorable regulations, despite political opposition.
Vouching for the trustworthiness of his political partner, Lapid continued, “I wouldn’t be standing here today if I didn’t believe that Benny Gantz could lead us to victory and then lead the country. He’ll be an excellent Prime Minister. I believe in him.”
Prior to announcing the joint ticket, Gantz’s new Israel Resilience party had been polling strongest after Netanyahu’s Likud. Yet success at the ballots would still require gaining a parliamentary majority, and most analysis is still acknowledging the Gantz-Lapid ticket's changes of unseating Netanyahu "a long shot" — himself busy reaching out to powerful religious-nationalist parties in a move that many observers see as a desperate pact with the "extreme right".
The timing of any potential future indictment of Netanyahu, however, could ultimately sway momentum out of his favor, so the progress of the multiple ongoing corruption investigations could have the most impact.