Blue and White, New Hope Parties To Run on Joint Slate in Israel’s November Election
Benny Gantz’s aspirations to be PM, Gideon Sa’ar’s desire to pass the electoral threshold behind merger, experts say
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Gideon Sa’ar, the justice minister, announced on Sunday night that their political parties, Blue and White, and New Hope, respectively, would run together in Israel’s upcoming election.
The alliance, which has yet to be named, will seek to form a government that is “responsible, realistic, secure and liberal,” Gantz, who will lead the joint slate, said at the press briefing where the two men unveiled the merger.
Sa’ar added that the move would create “a strong, responsible political force led by the dignified Right and defense-oriented Center [that] will offer Israel a better and more correct path than any of the fringe elements can. This is the right thing, the responsible thing, to do.”
The November 1 parliamentary vote will be the fifth in just over three and a half years. The first three ended in stalemate and failed to produce governments. The fourth election saw the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid government emerge, but after some 13 months in office, desertions by lawmakers saw it lose its majority, and Bennett asked the Knesset to dissolve itself. The move left Lapid as caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed. Bennett announced a few days after that he won’t be participating in the upcoming election.
Dr. Dana Wolf, from the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at Reichman University in Herzliya, said there are two main schools of thought about the merger.
One, she told The Media Line, argues that it is designed to give Gantz a chance to become prime minister and that his goal is to coalition with Likud Chairman Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and be first in a rotation of the office.
The second interpretation, Wolf added, “is that the merger is designed to save New Hope from the danger that it may not pass the [3.25%] electoral threshold [if it runs on its own], and thereby save the ‘Not Bibi’ bloc from losing [Knesset] seats.”
The goal of the merger is to prevent Netanyahu from forming a coalition and it is a positive move for the bloc that wants to keep Netanyahu away from the premiership
Based on Gantz’s and Sa’ar’s statements, Wolf believes that “the goal of the merger is to prevent Netanyahu from forming a coalition and it is a positive move for the bloc that wants to keep Netanyahu away from the premiership.”
Gantz’s goal is to differentiate himself from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party
Dr. Omer Dostri, an Israeli national security expert and political columnist, discussed with The Media Line some of the motives the two ministers could have to run together.
Sa’ar, he said, “was in a desperate situation due to his dismal results in the polls. In almost every survey, he was hovering over the threshold to enter the Knesset.”
As for Gantz, continued Dostri, “he acquired so-called right-wing figures who would balance his party’s candidates list. Gantz’s goal is to differentiate himself from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.”
Lapid, according to Dostri, is trying to brand his party as the only candidate to lead the Center-Left camp, while Gantz is trying to do the same in the Center-Right camp.
We created a new political camp which is not the Right of Bibi and not the Left. We believe most of the nation is there
Sagi Gabay, spokesperson for New Hope, told The Media Line the party was solid in every poll and that the two parties merged because “we believe Israel needs a national unity government. We combine the security-orientated Center [Blue and White] and the statist Right [New Hope], with two honest and experienced leaders.
“We created a new political camp which is not the Right of Bibi and not the Left. We believe most of the nation is there,” he continued.
Gabay added that New Hope won’t join a government under Netanyahu. “We think Israel has to move forward and the right person for this is Gantz,” he said.
Wolf pointed out that if, for a fifth consecutive time, Netanyahu cannot form a majority coalition of 61 lawmakers, the merger could pave the way for the new party to help the anti-Netanyahu bloc form a government, given its ability to attract the Orthodox parties into partnership.
She added, however, that the merged slate might not be larger than the sum of its parts.
“Voters from the Right who did not want to vote for Netanyahu and voted instead for New Hope, might go elsewhere because they believe the merged party is not right-wing enough,” she said.
Dostri agrees and said this move may strengthen Netanyahu and the right-wing camp.
“Gantz is affiliated with the left-wing camp in Israel, and the voters of Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party will not be in a hurry to move with him to the new list,” he explained.
Whether New Hope voters stay home on Election Day or support another party on the Right, Dostri continued, “one way or another, the right-wing bloc will benefit and will probably get stronger as a result.”
However, he did not rule out the possibility that Gantz would sit with Netanyahu in a future coalition. “It is possible that if Netanyahu offers Gantz to be the first in the rotation of the prime minister, Gantz will not reject it outright, to say the least,” he said.
Unlike Sa’ar, “Gantz is less aggressive toward Netanyahu and has not yet publicly ruled out sitting with him in the coalition after the next election,” Dostri said, adding that it is only a possibility and the chances of it happening are low.
As to whether, as many are saying, the merger hurts Lapid’s chances of remaining prime minister in the government formed after the election, Wolf said no.
“I think that now that Lapid is running for election from the Prime Minister’s Office, this merger is aimed at preventing Netanyahu from getting 61 seats [in a coalition between the Likud and other parties] and that in itself is all that is needed for Lapid to continue as prime minister,” she said.
Dostri said in contrast that the merger is indeed likely to hurt Lapid, weakening his political power and costing his party seats in the Knesset. He also said that running for office as prime minister gives him a significant advantage.
The addition of former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, for example, might restore the momentum to Lapid
He added that Lapid will likely make changes to his party’s candidates list in the two months left before the deadline. “The addition of former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, for example, might restore the momentum to Lapid,” Dostri said.