How will the merger in the ranks of the center-left affect the upcoming April elections? Israel Resilience Party leader Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid’s decision to join forces shuffles the cards, and creates two blocs and two leaders, Netanyahu and Gantz, who are expected to fight it out in a close battle for the leadership of the country.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push for unified ranks within the smaller rightists parties has succeeded, and even goes as far right as Otzma Yehudit (Jewish might), a party seen by many as the ideological descendant of the outlawed extreme-right Kach party. To his left, Gantz is now leading a centrist camp.
The Likud Party was counting on this scenario, which pushes Netanyahu to the right and allows him to draw seats from smaller parties. For Gantz, of course, the alliance with Lapid and Ashkenazi means more power, something he hopes will allow him to attract votes from all those who wish to replace Netanyahu.
The Gantz-Lapid unificiation is bad news for small parties on both right and left. It means all other issues but the fight over the prime minister’s position could be pushed out to the margins of campaign discourse. In leftists circles, many might opt for Gantz if they feel he has a real chance of replacing Netanyahu — and cost the struggling Meretz and Labor parties valuable votes.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, is expected to highlight the danger of losing power to the left, thus drawing rightists votes from the Jewish Home, New Right and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party. The challenge for the latter will be to persuade their public not to panic and opt to vote for Netanyahu.
The right is expected to continue with its line of “Gantz leads a weak left,” emphasizing a difference between left and right. Gantz, on the other hand, is promoting a balanced and clean image, and pairing it with criticism of Netanyahu’s conduct.