Top Netanyahu challengers unite for Israeli elections

Ex-military chief Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid said they will present a joint list for the upcoming elections. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 February 2019

Top Netanyahu challengers unite for Israeli elections

  • Polls suggest together the two could surpass Netanyahu’s ruling Likud to become Israel’s largest faction
  • Elections will happen on April 9

JERUSALEM: The two main challengers to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced an electoral alliance on Thursday, posing a threat to the premier’s long rule as he also faces potential corruption charges.

While polls have consistently shown Netanyahu is likely to win the April 9 election, the combined power of his two main challengers from the political center will at minimum shake up the campaign.

An announcement by Israel’s attorney general ahead of polling day of charges against the prime ministers would greatly boost the new alliance’s cause, but it is unclear when a decision in the investigations will be unveiled.

Netanyahu has tacked further to the right as he faces the potential indictments and the challenge from the newly allied centrist politicians: Benny Gantz, a respected former armed forces chief of staff, and Yair Lapid.

He demonstrated that on Wednesday by brokering a deal which will raise the profile of an extreme-right party and potentially see it win seats in Parliament, leading critics to say he was pandering to “racists.”

Gantz and Lapid have seized on such moves and the corruption investigations to promote their alliance as one that can restore Israel’s values.

They said they had agreed to unite “out of a sense of deep national responsibility.”

“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,” Lapid’s statement said.


Other members of the alliance include former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and another ex-military chief, Gabi Ashkenazi.

Gantz and Lapid plan to rotate as prime minister should they win the election.

Gantz would be premier for the first two-and-a-half years and Lapid, a former television journalist-turned politician, would take over afterward.

Netanyahu’s Likud party responded to the alliance by repeating the line of attack it has engaged in for weeks, seeking to label Gantz a “weak” leftist.

Israeli politics have moved firmly to the right in recent years, with much of the population having grown weary of calls for a two-state solution and unwilling to make significant compromises in favor of the Palestinians.

“The choice is clear: It’s either a left-wing Lapid-Gantz government with the support of the Arab parties, or a right-wing government led by Netanyahu,” a statement said.

Netanyahu already leads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

Prominent members of his coalition openly rule out a Palestinian state and advocate annexing much of the occupied West Bank.

The 69-year-old leader’s political skills are well-known, and some analysts said even with a united opposition he would still be the clear favorite.


Longest-serving PM?

Netanyahu has been prime minister for around 13 years in all and would be on track to surpass founding father David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving premier should he win in April.

He would not be required to step down if indicted, only after conviction with all appeals exhausted. He denies all allegations.

Shmuel Sandler, political science professor at Bar Ilan University, said the merger sharpened the focus of the race.

“It’s going to be center versus right,” he said.

“I think given the current polls, Netanyahu still has a better chance of winning even after the merger.”

A campaign that has already turned into a mud-slinging fest is meanwhile likely to become dirtier.

Gantz had long sought to remain above the fray, but he unleashed a stinging rebuke of Netanyahu in a speech on Tuesday night after a series of Likud attacks against him.

He chided Netanyahu for his long years studying and working in the US early in his career while also accusing him of becoming “addicted to the pleasures of power, corruption and hedonism.”

“When I lay in muddy foxholes with my soldiers on frozen winter nights, you, Benjamin Netanyahu, left Israel to improve your English and practice it at luxurious cocktail parties,” Gantz said.

Netanyahu struck back immediately, highlighting his own military experience and arguing that his English oratory has benefited Israel.

“Benny Gantz, be ashamed of yourself,” the prime minister said in a video clip, saying he had “risked my life time and time again for our country.”

Saudi Arabia joins Arab anger over ‘theft of occupied Golan Heights’

Updated 3 min 56 sec ago

Saudi Arabia joins Arab anger over ‘theft of occupied Golan Heights’

  • Israel seized part of the Golan during the 1967 Six-Day War, subsequently annexing it in 1981
  • US President Trump officially recognized Israel's sovereignty of the Golan Heights on March 25, 2019

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia joined Arab states on Tuesday in condemning a decision by the United States to recognize the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

Breaking decades of international consensus, US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation at the White House on Monday recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the border area that Israel seized from Syria in 1967. 

Saudi Arabia firmly rejected the decision and affirmed its position that Golan Heights was occupied Syrian Arab land in accordance with the relevant international resolutions, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The declaration, made by the US, is a clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the report said.

The US decision was a violation of Security Council resolutions 242 of 1967 and 497 of 1981, and would have devastating implications on the peace process in the Middle East, as well as security and stability in the region, Saudi Arabia’s official statement said.

Saudi Arabia called on all parties to respect the decisions of international legitimacy and the charter of the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the Arab League Secretary-General, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said that the decision “does not change the area’s status” as illegally occupied territory,

Syria said the decision was a blatant attack on its sovereignty. 

“Trump does not have the right or the legal authority to legitimize the occupation,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Opposition chief Nasr Al-Hariri said Trump’s decision would “lead to more violence and instability, and it will have negative effects on efforts to engineer peace in the region.”

Lebanon said the move “violates all the rules of international law” and “undermines any effort to reach a just peace.”

“The Golan Heights are Syrian Arab land, no decision can change this, and no country can revisit history by transferring ownership of land from one country to another,” the Foreign Ministry said.