Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party are merging, the two announced in a press conference on Sunday night.
Israel needs "a functioning government"
“Today we are laying the foundation stone of the next government,” Gantz said. “The edges and extremes have set the tone for too long, and the Israeli center remained without a voice.”
"The fringes and extremes have set the tone for too long, and the Israeli center remained without a voice"Benny Gantz
Gantz described his year under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for which he was heavily criticized in the anti-Bibi camp, as “putting a hand on the steering wheel,” which succeeded in “stopping a critical blow to democracy and safeguarding the legal system.”
“The citizens of Israel need a functioning government that will take care of its national security,” Gantz said.
Gantz praised Sa’ar, calling him a “brave and honest leader.”
“We arrived at good agreements that will enable us to serve the people of Israel as two parties and movements that express the responsible, realistic, secure and liberal voice,” he said, hinting that their two parties will still maintain separate identities under the same list.
Gantz called on all Israelis to join who recognize Israel as a “strong, confident, Jewish and democratic state but do not have racist opinions.”
A move "from crisis to progress"
Sa’ar spoke next, and stressed that the merger would be one of the “patriotic Right” but having “centrist national-security” policies.
“Today, Israel needs a new hope, and a move that will pull it from crisis to progress,” he said, alluding to his New Hope Party.
Sa’ar also praised his new running mate.
“Benny stood strong versus the poisonous machine,” he said. “The decisions Gantz made were for the good of the country, and he made them and was able to cope with the backlash,” Sa’ar said.
"Today Israel needs New Hope, and a move that will pull it from crisis to progress"Gideon Sa'ar
This proved that Gantz was “the appropriate leader to stand at the helm of this unity government,” he said.
“I come with my friends to this partnership with an open heart for the beloved State of Israel, which we serve and whose well-being we seek,” Sa’ar concluded.
The two were reported to have been in talks for at least two weeks, and a breakthrough was reportedly achieved last week.
New Hope will reportedly receive about a third of the joint party’s seats, versus two-thirds for Blue and White, according to N12.
Sa’ar will be put in second place on the list, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton will be in fifth place, and Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin will be seventh, according to the report.
What about the leftovers?
Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel – who had been an MK in both Blue and White and New Hope – will not be on the list, the report said.
Hendel and fellow MK Zvika Hauser barred Gantz from forming a government earlier in the election cycle, so the defense minister reportedly was not willing to allow them to join.
Hendel reportedly met with Yamina chairwoman Ayelet Shaked on Sunday, possibly to discuss entering her party.
In addition, recent reports have indicated that former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot is considering running in the upcoming election and is debating whether to join Yesh Atid or Blue and White.
If he joins the new Gantz-Sa’ar party, he would be placed second or third on the list, and might receive a few more spots to fill with people of his choice.
It is not clear whether Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana of Yamina, who reportedly was looking into joining a different party, will join the list – and if so, which slot he will be given.
In a Channel 12 poll conducted 10 days ago, a merger of Blue and White with New Hope would give the combined party 15 seats, making it the third largest after Likud and Yesh Atid.
Gantz’s thinking is that if he can win between 12 and 15 seats, he can be the dealmaker after the next election and potentially become the prime minister.
This would be relevant if neither Lapid nor Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu can form a coalition. In that case, Gantz can potentially play both sides against one another.
On the one hand, he can tell the Israel electorate that by joining Netanyahu, he is preventing a sixth election – like Bennett did when joining with Lapid – and that he will be able to prevent people like far-right MK and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir from becoming a minister in the cabinet. In this case, Gantz would be able to justify the decision to again join Netanyahu and he would also be able to demand and receive the right to go first in a prime ministerial rotation.
The Likud responded to the merger, saying, “We don’t get involved in how the Left splits its votes.”
United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev responded to the news that Hendel would not be part of the joint Blue and White-New Hope list, saying that “Those who have violated the holiness of Israel with arrogance now stand and court the gates with great self-contempt.
“Although the political map is not yet clear, we already see Hendel and Kahana courting the party gates, standing despised time and time again and thrown from one to the other,” Maklev said. “They are immediately paying for the harm to the ultra-Orthodox public and the saints of Israel. Sa’ar dumped Hendel, and Matan Kahana is looking for a home when he no longer serves as a minister and does not understand why he is not wanted anywhere.”
Ben-Gvir responded to the reports as well, saying, “The union between Sa’ar and Gantz shows Sa’ar’s desire to connect with the Left. Benny Gantz, who has proven to be a leftist who wants to promote Oslo II, meets with the terrorist Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] and makes him relevant. The home of right-wing voters is Otzma Yehudit.”