Avi Gabbay concedes Labor not competing for PM spot in election

Labor leader shifts goal to blocking Netanyahu victory.

Labor leader Avi Gabbay speaks to mayors from his party Thursday in Haifa (photo credit: ELAD GUTMAN)
Labor leader Avi Gabbay speaks to mayors from his party Thursday in Haifa
(photo credit: ELAD GUTMAN)
Labor leader Avi Gabbay has dramatically changed his approach to the April 9 election in a cryptically worded statement he made to the media at a meeting in Haifa with mayors from his party on Thursday.
Until then, Gabbay and other Labor MKs repeatedly insisted that he was a candidate for prime minister and that he would win the election. But after a Channel 13 poll found that Labor would only win six seats if the election was held now while the Israel Resilience Party of former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz would win 24, Gabbay changed his tune.
“I am happy about new people entering politics and the expanding of our political camp, and it can be widened even further,” Gabbay said. “But in order to expand it and bring about change, there must be a commitment to replace the government – a commitment to change. If there will be such a commitment, I promise you that on April 9, Netanyahu will no longer be prime minister. On April 9, there will be a new prime minister of Israel. There will be a new government – a government of hope.”
At first glance, the statement appeared to just reiterate what Gabbay has been saying for weeks about all the parties in his camp needing to promise that they would not join a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Gabbay’s associates said the statement was much more than that.
First of all, Gabbay was admitting it was unlikely that he would be the candidate for prime minister of the Center-Left camp. His associates said he would recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that the next government be formed by the leader of the largest party in his camp or which ever party leader in the camp would have the easiest time forming a government.
Secondly, Gabbay was expressing disappointment with Gantz’s statement about the possibility of a Netanyahu victory in his first political speech Tuesday night.
“I will neither support, nor will I close my eyes in the face of any violation of moral standards,” Gantz said in the speech. “The very thought that a prime minister can serve in Israel with an indictment is ridiculous to me. This cannot happen.”
Some interpreted Gantz’s statement as a promise that he would not join a government led by Netanyahu after his indictment pending a hearing, which Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to announce in mid-February. Others interpreted what Gantz said as a willingness to join a Netanyahu-led government after that stage, but a promise to leave it if an indictment comes in 2020.
In his statement in Haifa, Gabbay asked Gantz, without mentioning him by name, to clarify what he meant in his speech.
“It’s not criticism of Gantz,” a Gabbay associate said. “But it is a request to make a much more solid commitment.”
The third message Gabbay sought to deliver in Haifa, his associates said, was that a vote for Labor is a safe vote for those who do not want Netanyahu to remain prime minister and don’t trust that Gantz or Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid would not join a government led by him.
A source close to Gabbay said he also wants the other party leaders in his camp to agree that the two Arab parties who are expected to be elected could be counted in a “blocking majority” to prevent Netanyahu and the Right from forming a government.
Lapid has rejected making such a commitment in the past, and has said he would not build a government with “the Zoabis.”
“What matters now is that our camp gains a blocking majority,” a source close to Gabbay said. “Yitzhak Rabin was not afraid to use Arab parties to gain a blocking majority, and that should be fine for us now, too."