Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot (L) and outgoing Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz (R) salute during a handover ceremony at Kirya base in Tel Aviv February 16, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
There was euphoria in the Labor faction on Friday from when its Knesset members woke up until 8:23 am, when the spokeswoman of party leader Avi Gabbay released a statement firmly refuting the lead story in the Maariv newspaper.
The report by journalist Ben Caspit revealed that there have been intensive talks between Gabbay and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz about Gantz joining the party. That part of the story was not denied.
The scoop was that Gabbay was offering Gantz to be the party’s candidate for prime minister. According to the report, Gabbay would remain the chairman of the party, but Gantz – who internal Labor polls show would win 10 more seats than Gabbay – would face off against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The reason for the euphoria was that many Labor MKs have already given up on Gabbay, who has been floundering in the polls for months. Gantz joining the party would be a big boost, but him becoming the party’s prime ministerial candidate could be the difference between night and day.
There is precedent for such a move. Ahead of the 2001 election between Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak, it was clear that Sharon was on the way to a landslide victory.
A new campaign then began in Labor called Tnu LePeres Lenatzeach – Let Peres Win. The campaign was designed to let Shimon Peres run for prime minister instead of Barak.
Barak, of course, blocked the move, as Gabbay will now apparently do with Gantz. That was the impression received by multiple MKs who spoke at length and in depth with Gabbay over the weekend.
But perhaps there is a bit of truth to the report, and it just was leaked prematurely. Fielding Gantz could be Labor’s only chance of winning the election.
The only candidates who have led Labor to victory since the 1974 resignation of Golda Meir are former IDF chiefs of staff Yitzhak Rabin and Barak.
If that happened, Gabbay could become finance minister or foreign minister. If Gabbay loses, he would be forced out very quickly and could soon be out of politics.
Even if Labor joined the coalition, it is possible the party’s institutions would not vote to give Gabbay a portfolio.
There is also the chance that the party could do to Gabbay what it did to Binyamin Ben- Eliezer. He was voted in to replace Barak after Barak lost the 2001 election. But before Israel went to the polls in 2003, Labor held another primary and chose Amram Mitzna as its prime ministerial candidate, and Ben-Eliezer never got a chance to run.
But one Labor member who is not a fan of Gabbay said he hoped the report was not true. He said it would be better for Gantz and the party if the former general joined the party and gained ministerial experience first, perhaps under Netanyahu, if the next election is held before Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit rules on his corruption cases.
Then, if Netanyahu gets indicted and is forced to step down, Gantz could be ready to take over.
All these scenarios may sound far-fetched, but when a party is in danger of falling to the single digits, all there is left to do is dream.