Knives out as Israeli election nears

Mr Avi Gabbay humiliated Ms Tzipi Livni by abruptly breaking with her and her party at a press conference. Ms Ayelet Shaked and Mr Naftali Bennett abandoned their right-wing party to form a new one - the New Right - last December. Former army chief o
Israel's current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the favourite to win another term, but Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit has indicated he will try to decide whether to indict Mr Netanyahu before the April election. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Mr Avi Gabbay humiliated Ms Tzipi Livni by abruptly breaking with her and her party at a press conference. Ms Ayelet Shaked and Mr Naftali Bennett abandoned their right-wing party to form a new one - the New Right - last December. Former army chief o
Former army chief of staff Benny Gantz is the latest in a string of retired generals to make the leap to politics.
Mr Avi Gabbay humiliated Ms Tzipi Livni by abruptly breaking with her and her party at a press conference. Ms Ayelet Shaked and Mr Naftali Bennett abandoned their right-wing party to form a new one - the New Right - last December. Former army chief o
Ms Ayelet Shaked and Mr Naftali Bennett abandoned their right-wing party to form a new one - the New Right - last December. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Mr Avi Gabbay humiliated Ms Tzipi Livni by abruptly breaking with her and her party at a press conference. Ms Ayelet Shaked and Mr Naftali Bennett abandoned their right-wing party to form a new one - the New Right - last December. Former army chief o
Mr Avi Gabbay (left) humiliated Ms Tzipi Livni (right) by abruptly breaking with her and her party at a press conference.

Alliances crumble, new parties form as candidates envision a post-Netanyahu era

JERUSALEM • With elections just a few months away, candidates are sticking knives in the ribs of their natural allies in hopes of elevating their own chances of succeeding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This week, the Zionist Union, a four-year-old liberal alliance, blew itself up as the Labor Party chief, Mr Avi Gabbay, humiliated veteran politician Tzipi Livni by abruptly breaking with her and her boutique party Hatnuah (The Movement) while television cameras rolled.

Popular ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked abandoned their right-wing party, the Jewish Home, to form a new one - the New Right - that they vowed would be less beholden to religious leaders but would still push to settle the West Bank and oppose a Palestinian state.

And a former army chief of staff, Mr Benny Gantz, barged into the political centre with a vague-sounding new party - Israel Resilience - and a still-to-be-announced set of ideas.

It instantly threatened to siphon off support from more established moderate contenders like Mr Yair Lapid and Mr Moshe Kahlon, as well as another former chief of staff, Mr Moshe Ya'alon.

For the moment, the biggest beneficiary of the infighting appears to be Mr Netanyahu, whose conservative Likud party stands like a giant in Lilliput.

But the atomising parties could come back to haunt him in the April 9 election, said Professor Gideon Rahat, a political scientist at Hebrew University and the Israel Democracy Institute.

A comfortable Likud lead could encourage voters to get behind smaller alternatives - but if too many small parties compete, some could fail to enter Parliament and so could not join a governing coalition.

Mr Netanyahu has a more immediate reason to fear: Israeli Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to decide in the coming months whether to heed police recommendations that he indict Mr Netanyahu on bribery or other charges arising from three major corruption investigations.

 
 

Israeli politics is notoriously turbulent, but the drama-a-day tumult and the suspense over Mr Netanyahu's legal predicament left one columnist comparing the campaign to a television series and wishing only that it could be binge-watched.

Here is a look at the candidates:


BENNY GANTZ AND THE CENTRE

With his movie-star good looks, Mr Gantz has already managed to shake the political centre merely by offering himself up as a candidate.

He is the latest in a string of retired generals to make the leap to politics.

He has divulged nothing about his positions, apparently heeding the advice of those who say that he can only harm himself by taking any. But that strategic ambiguity cannot last and there is pressure from the dump-Netanyahu crowd for Mr Gantz to help coalesce a larger and more viable centre-left bloc.


NAFTALI BENNETT AND AYELET SHAKED

A former commando turned high-tech millionaire, the religious Mr Bennett has been hawkish on national security. The secular Ms Shaked set about curbing the judicial branch and engineering a rightward shift in the Supreme Court's make-up.

But after leading the Jewish Home's amalgam of religious Zionists and Orthodox Jews since 2012, they felt increasingly hemmed in by their radical, rabbinically guided partners.

On Dec 29 last year, they announced the New Right party to appeal to a broader Israeli public, with religious and non-religious Jews as equal partners. They say they support Mr Netanyahu's re-election, but clearly have their eyes on his office once he leaves.


AVI GABBAY AND TZIPI LIVNI

This partnership was always a ticking time bomb.

On Tuesday, it went off. Mr Gabbay, who had floundered since taking over Labor in 2017, was convinced that Ms Livni - in publicly calling for the centre-left to unite, but not necessarily behind Mr Gabbay - had been undermining him.

He got his revenge by inviting reporters to a meeting and then wishing Ms Livni success "in any party you are in".

His loyalists said it showed he possessed the steel that Israelis expect in their leaders.

But critics said he would never have treated a man the same way and he has faced public calls demanding his resignation.

For all her flaws as a politician, Ms Livni could still wind up forming part of a liberal bloc.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU AND LIKUD

The Prime Minister for a decade, Mr Netanyahu is the favourite to win another term. But the Attorney-General has indicated he will try to decide whether to indict Mr Netanyahu before the election.

Meanwhile, younger Likud leaders are jostling for position. Perhaps the most formidable among them is Mr Gideon Saar, a former Likud minister who took a time-out from politics in 2014 and announced his comeback last year.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2019, with the headline 'Knives out as Israeli election nears'. Print Edition | Subscribe