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Benjamin Netanyahu strikes deal with hardline parties ahead of Israel elections

22 February 2019

Should their new party, named Blue and White after the colors of the Israeli flag, emerge as the largest and secure a majority coalition in parliament, Gantz and Lapid have agreed on a rotation for the prime minister's post - Gantz holding the office for two-and-a-half years before Lapid takes over.

Former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi will join them, making him the third former IDF chief in the party, in addition to Gantz and to former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon.

"From a feeling of national responsibility, it was decided by Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and (Moshe) Ya'alon to create a united list that will become the new governing party of Israel", Gantz and Lapid said in a joint statement.

"The new ruling party will bring forth a cadre of security and social leaders to ensure Israel's security and to reconnect its people and heal the divide within Israeli society", they said.

If the new faction wins the election, Gantz and Lapid would both serve as Israel's Prime Minister.

And, according to the most recent polls, the Lapid-Gantz alliance has a very real shot of unseating Netanyahu. But the dramatic merger seems enough to make the election a real fight for Netanyahu.

On Wednesday, he postponed a trip to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin to stay home and reach a preliminary election deal with two fringe religious-nationalist parties in a bid to unify his hard-line bloc. "We will work as a team to fix Israel".

Polls have shown Likud best poised to form the next government, with the support of religious and nationalist partners, and it's not clear whether the new alliance will change an election picture already clouded by multiple corruption allegations against Netanyahu.

"There are now, as a result of this unification, two, I would say, legitimate major parties".

The announcement on Thursday morning came less than a day after the Jewish Home and National Union parties announced that they would engage in a Netanyahu-brokered technical vote-sharing bloc with the staunch-right Otzma Yehudit Party in exchange for the education and housing ministries and two seats in the security cabinet.

Among the prominent figures in the joint Jewish Home-Jewish Power list are Bezalel Smotrich, a self-avowed "proud homophobe", Itamar Ben Gvir, an attorney who has made a career defending radical Israeli settlers implicated in West Bank violence, and Benzi Gopstein, leader of an extremist anti-assimilation group whose Twitter handle translates to "Kahane was right". He was assassinated in 1990 in NY by an Egyptian-born American.

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.

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".

Benjamin Netanyahu strikes deal with hardline parties ahead of Israel elections