Blue and White staying alive under Gantz

Sa’ar cuts Likud’s lead in half • Blue and White teetering on threshold

Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz will announce at a press conference on Saturday night or Sunday that his Blue and White Party will run in the next election and he will lead it, sources in the party said Thursday.
There had been speculation that Gantz would retire from politics after two years of political challenges that wore him down. But sources in the party said Gantz was ready to go back on the campaign trail.
“Blue and White will continue running, and so will Benny Gantz,” Culture Minister Chili Tropper, who is close to Gantz, told Channel 12 on Thursday night.
Whether Gantz’s number two in the party, Gabi Ashkenazi, would run again remained less certain. Ben Caspit, a columnist from Ma’ariv, The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication, reported on Thursday that Ashkenazi was seriously considering forming an independent party.
Sources close to Ashkenazi mocked the report, saying that “one day it is reported that he is quitting politics, the next day that he is forming a party and the day after that, he will replace Benny as head of Blue and White. We won’t stoop to responding to such blabber.”
Another leading figure in the party, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, is considering offers to run to head Labor and to be given a slot near the top of Yesh Atid by party leader Yair Lapid.
The developments in Blue and White happened amid polls showing the party teetering on the 3.25% electoral threshold.
According to a new poll taken Thursday for the Post and Ma’ariv, if the March 23 election would be held now, Gantz's party would win only four seats. Last week’s poll predicted seven seats for Blue and White.
The new poll found that prime ministerial candidate Gideon Sa’ar would be able to form a government with Yamina, Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu and Blue and White, leaving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Meretz and the Joint List in the opposition.
The survey predicted 21 seats for Sa’ar’s New Hope Party, just five seats less than Likud. The addition of Likud minister Ze’ev Elkin on Wednesday appeared to give a boost to Sa’ar, who cut the Likud’s lead in last week’s poll from ten mandates to five.
The Likud would win 26 seats, New Hope 21, Yamina 15, Yesh Atid-Telem 14, the Joint List 11 and Shas eight. There would be seven seats each for United Torah Judaism, Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz.
The Center-Right anti-Netanyahu bloc of New Hope, Yamina, Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu and Blue and White would win 61 seats, the Netanyahu-Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) bloc 41 and the left-wing bloc of the Joint List and Meretz 18.
The poll of 530 respondents representing a statistical sample of the Israeli adult population had a margin of error of 4.3%.
Asked who is most fit to be prime minister, 33% said Netanyahu, 17% Sa’ar, 10% Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid nine percent, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz four percent, none of the above 11% and 16% said they did not know.
When asked if they would back a deal in which Netanyahu would quit politics in return for canceling his criminal cases, 31% said they would support such a deal, 44% said they would oppose it and 25% said they did not know. Among Likud voters, the numbers were similar, but there was a slight majority for it among those who intend to vote for New Hope and a large majority among Yamina voters.
In an attempt to take advantage of the anger against Netanyahu due to his criminal cases, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who has wooed Nissenkorn and former justice minister Tzipi Livni, said he would decide soon whether to form a new political party.
Livni is sought after and has received many requests and offers to rejoin politics. But sources close to her said no one knows – including her – if she wants to come back to politics at all.
Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah announced in a press conference at Tel Aviv’s Beit Sokolow on Thursday afternoon that he is leaving Yesh Atid to form a new party with Roy Cohen, who heads an organization of independent workers.
“The failed experience of Blue and White proved that it is not enough to say ‘anything but Bibi [Netanyahu]’ and bring together a team of stars,” Shelah said. “The next government must have in it a worldview that many Israelis believe in.”
Shelah said the time for generals is over, calling on others in the Center-Left to join him.
In a reference to Yamina and to Sa’ar’s New Hope Party, Shelah lamented that Israelis on the Center-Left intend to vote for parties on the Right, calling on them to rethink their decision.
Shelah was once a close confidant and friend of Lapid and helped him establish the party, but he decided to challenge his leadership. Lapid did not give in and the leadership primary never happened.
Yesh Atid wished Shelah success and thanked him for his cooperation over the past nine years.
After Shelah quits the Knesset on Sunday, he will be replaced by Blue and White director-general Yael Ron Ben-Moshe, who is the next candidate on the united Blue and White-Yesh Atid list, which came in 2nd place in the last election, three seats behind the Likud, with which it formed the now failed unity government.