In the wake of the dramatic break-up of the Zionist Union partnership between Labor and Hatnuah, leaders on the left and center are reportedly involved in intensive, ongoing negotiations about new alliances and joint slates. But whether these negotiations will ultimately lead anywhere is still anyone’s guess.
On Sunday, Haaretz reported that Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid met to discuss a possible partnership. According to the report, Lapid sees a pact with Livni as a way to win more voters on the center-left and take seats from Labor. For her part, Livni has continually sought to build a large bloc of center-left parties to take on Netanyahu.
Yet on Monday, Hadashot poured cold water on these rumors. They reported that Yesh Atid and Hatnuah will NOT be teaming up — with Lapid reportedly saying, “Just as I will not unite with Netanyahu, I will not unite with the left.” Instead, Lapid may be focusing on a possible partnership with former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Gantz’s new Hosen L’Yisrael (“Israel Resilience”) party has surged in the polls since it was formed at the start of the new year. According to Hadashot, Lapid and Gantz have discussed running on a joint slate — but as of now, neither is willing to give up the number one slot at the top of such a list. It’s possible that everyone is playing their cards close to the vest for now, in the hope that their poll numbers will take off — and give them increased leverage — between now and the February 21st deadline for finalizing the party lists.
The Labor party has been dealing with its own fallout from the Zionist Union breakup. At a raucous party conference in Tel Aviv last week, Labor chairman Avi Gabbay spoke to cheers as well as boos and whistles, while arguments reportedly erupted in the halls. Veteran MK Eitan Cabel criticized Gabbay’s leadership, claiming that he sought too much personal control over the party and its election list. Ultimately, despite all the unrest, Gabbay won all of the procedural motions he tabled — indicating that he is still in control.
Gabbay called on Gantz and Lapid to join a slate with Labor — but made clear that he would expect to lead any such partnership.
Since founding his new “Israel Resilience” party and declaring his candidacy, Gantz has largely maintained a strategic silence on almost every issue. He ended that silence — at least temporarily — on Monday, speaking to dozens of Israeli Druze protesters who gathered outside his home to protest against the discriminatory Nation-State Law.
Gantz praised the protesters for their opposition to the law and promised that he would do “everything in his power to correct” it. Gantz emphasized the Druze community’s extensive service in the IDF, and said that the Nation-State Law should be amended to “express the deep, inseparable connection” between Jewish and Druze Israelis.
In reply to these comments, Prime Minister Netanyahu and other right-wing leaders claimed that Gantz had revealed himself as “left-wing.”
After Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s departure to form their own “New Right” party, HaBayit HaYehudi (“Jewish Home”) is in need of new leadership.
On Monday, one of Jewish Home’s sub-factions, the National Union, voted to elect 38-year-old Bezalel Smotrich as its new leader, ousting the incumbent, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel. Smotrich has developed a well-earned reputation as the Knesset’s most extreme right and racist member. He has argued that Israeli developers should not have to sell land to Arabs; that Arab and Jewish women should be segregated in maternity wards; and that settler “price tag” attacks against Palestinians should not be treated as terrorism. He co-founded the far-right group Regavim, which advocates for settlement expansion and the demolition and displacement of Palestinian communities in the West Bank. Smotrich also identifies as proudly homphobic and hostile to LGBT rights.
On Wednesday, the Jewish Home conference is set to decide whether they will again partner with National Union on a joint list. Smotrich is reportedly seeking to serve as the leader of not just the National Union sub-faction, but of the entire Jewish Home party.
While some of Israel’s many political parties have their lists of Knesset candidates chosen solely by party leaders, others hold primary elections for their members. So far, the following party primary dates have been set:
Hadash – February 1
Likud – February 5
Labor – February 11
Meretz – February 14