Israel's primary centrist challengers to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have announced they are joining forces, a dramatic move that has created the first credible alternative to Netanyahu's decade-long rule.
The Gantz-Lapid alliance, while significant, would be eclipsed if Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit announces before the balloting whether he intends to put the prime minister on trial. Israeli commentators and American Jewish groups immediately decried the move, saying the faction was clearly an offshoot of Kahane's Kach party, a group that is designated a terrorist organization by the State Department and banned in Israel. "Bolstering one's political strength with those who profess racist views should be unthinkable", he said.
The announcement on Thursday morning came less than a day after the Jewish Home and National Union parties announced that they would engage in a Netanyahu-brokered technical vote-sharing bloc with the staunch-right Otzma Yehudit Party in exchange for the education and housing ministries and two seats in the security cabinet. "There is only one explanation for Netanyahu's odd behavior: he is panicking". Netanyahu is willing to "trample" the national interest for a small gain, Yemini wrote.
Netanyahu's courting of such forces drew sharp condemnations from much of the Israeli mainstream, with Gantz accusing him of losing touch "with his Zionism and with his dignity".
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"Realizing the importance of this national mission, Lt. Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi has chose to join the new list", the new coalition said in a statement. The leader of the socialist Meretz party asked the Labor party to negotiate a tieup, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of the nationalist New Right party, called on Netanyahu to team with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu Party and former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, the Ynet news website reported.
"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", a statement from Yesh Atid said.
The ruling Likud party, which had led in previous polls, is forecast to get between 26 and 30 total seats, according to estimates from both polls.
Should their new party, named Blue and White after the colors of the Israeli flag, emerge as the largest and secure a majority coalition in parliament, Gantz and Lapid have agreed on a rotation for the prime minister's post - Gantz holding the office for two-and-a-half years before Lapid takes over.
Under the arrangement for the new party, if it is able to secure a governing coalition, Gantz will serve as prime minister until November 2021, with Ya'alon serving as defense minister and Lapid as foreign minister, then afterwards Lapid will become prime minister with Gantz serving as defense minister.