Gantz, Lapid Merge Parties In Significant Challenge to Netanyahu

Benny Gantz of the Resilience party and ex-finance minister Yair Lapid head of the Yesh Atid party have announced an alliance

Gantz, Lapid Merge Parties In Significant Challenge to Netanyahu

Television host turned politician Yair Lapid (left) and retired military chief Benny Gantz (right) have formed a joint party to run against Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"A winning team needs to be led".

His right-wing Likud party leads the polls despite an investigation into corruption allegations against him.

Netanyahu's courting of such forces drew sharp condemnations from much of the Israeli mainstream, with Gantz accusing him of losing touch "with his Zionism and with his dignity".

A poll by the Israeli website Walla on Wednesday predicted that a merger between Lapid and Gantz would bring them virtually neck-and-neck with Netanyahu, who it projected would win 33 percent of the vote. After two days of negotiations, the pair struck a deal to rotate at the head of the government should they win, with Gantz serving the term of two and a half years.

Former military chief Benny Gantz's new Israel Resilience party and former Finance Minister Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid announced their alliance early Thursday after marathon talks, saying they were "motivated by national responsibility". In recognition of this pivotal moment and national task at hand, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi has also made a decision to join the new party. For the first two thirds of the term Lapid would be foreign minister with defense minister reserved for Moshe Yaalon.

Even if the joint list surpasses Likud at the ballot box, it is not guaranteed to form the next government unless it can garner a parliamentary majority by forming a collation with other parties. On Wednesday, he reportedly postponed a trip to meet Vladimir Putin in Moscow in order to stay in Israel to make a deal with two religious-nationalist parties, an extension of his recent attempt to appeal to hard-right voters.

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Likud agreed to reserve the 28th spot on its parliamentary list for the Jewish Home party and grant it two cabinet ministries in a future government if it merged with Jewish Power and another right-wing faction, National Union.

Jewish Power is comprised of hardline religious nationalists who have cast themselves as successors to the banned Kahanist movement, which dreamed of turning Israel into a Jewish theocracy and advocated the forced removal of its Palestinians.

The late American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane's Jewish Defence League is considered a terrorist organization by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The probability of Gantz and Lapid's new party taking victory over Netanyahu is a long shot, but not out of the realm of possibility.

Netanyahu has been prime minister for a total of around 13 years and now leads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israel's history.

Thursday is the deadline for the submission of party slates ahead of the parliamentary election.

The new alliance prompted calls for further consolidation of Israel's fragmented political landscape. Labor party leader Avi Gabbay called the move the "bankruptcy" of the Likud party's values.

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