/ 21 February 2019

Main challengers to Netanyahu announce alliance for Israeli polls

Binyamin Netanyahu elections. Reuters
Binyamin Netanyahu elections. Reuters

The two main challengers to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an April poll announced an electoral alliance on Thursday in a bid to defeat him.

Benny Gantz, a respected former armed forces chief of staff, and centrist politician Yair Lapid said in statements they would form a joint list for the April 9 election and rotate as prime minister if they won.

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

Opinion polls have shown the two as the main challengers to Netanyahu, who has been expected to win despite corruption investigations into his affairs.

Gantz has been the target of repeated barbs from the prime minister for being a ”weak” leftist, which he had brushed off, drawing criticism that he lacked a fighting spirit.

But in a campaign speech in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night, he hit back at Netanyahu chiding him for his long years studying and working in the United States, and accusing him of becoming ”addicted to the pleasures of power, corruption and hedonism.”

Former defence minister Moshe Yaalon had previously joined Israel Resilience and another former chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, will also join the new alliance, their statements said.

”Out of a sense of deep national responsibility, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Moshe Yaalon decided on the creation of a unified list which will serve as Israel’s new party of government,” the statement from Yesh Atid said.

”The party will put forward a new leadership team which will guarantee the security of Israel and will reunite the divided elements of Israeli society.”

Netanyahu has been prime minister for around 13 years in all and currently leads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

His Likud party issued a grim warning following the merger.

”The choice is clear: it’s either a leftwing Lapid-Gantz government with the support of the Arab parties, or a rightwing government led by Netanyahu,” a statement said.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu brokered a controversial agreement that united three small ultra-right parties in a bid to boost the number of seats held by the right and far-right following the April vote.

Thursday night is the deadline for submitting party lists for the election.

© Agence France-Presse