Recent polls have shown that an alliance between Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party would receive more votes than Netanyahu’s Likud party. Putting aside whether such a party could then find enough partners to form a government—according to those same polls, the answer is no—let us take a step back and ask whether such a merger makes any sense.
It is certainly true that the “anyone but Bibi” camp has gotten more powerful of late, and if that is the beginning and end of one’s strategic aims, then yes, maybe such a merger would make sense… but then, so would a merger of Labor and Zehut, Meretz and Shas, or the Joint List and the New Right, if polls showed that any of these clusters could beat Likud.
For those of us who don’t believe “anyone but Bibi” is a reasonable platform for an election, the question of who is merging and what the joint platform will be is paramount.
A week or so ago, the left wing comedy talk show host, Lior Schleien, did a segment in which he asked what sense the merger between Gantz’s Israel Resilience party and Moshe Yaalon’s Telem party makes. Gantz is presenting his party as centrist and poised to lead the left in the next Knesset, whereas Yaalon is a right winger. The point about Yaalon has been made by others as well and is quite strong.
Unlike Gantz, who has never held public office, Yaalon is a seasoned politician and a former defense minister. For years he was part of the Likud, which he quit not for ideological reasons, but because he and Netanyahu clashed over moral issues such as Yaalon’s condemnation of Elor Azaria’s shooting an unarmed Palestinian terrorist after he had already surrendered.
Whereas one might applaud Yaalon for his principled stands, this does not magically turn him into a left winger. He would be the first to tell you this, since, when he reentered politics after a brief hiatus, he specifically said that he sees himself as leading the “responsible right.”
A merger of Yaalon’s Telem with Bennett and Shaked’s New Right would have been self-explanatory, but the merger with Gantz’s Israel Resilience is harder to understand. Perhaps the most pointed issue is Yaalon’s unequivocal stand that not only is it Israel’s theoretical right to establish settlements anywhere it wants in the West Bank, but doing so is something to be supported and even encouraged, and that dismantling of settlements should not be a part of a future peace deal. What does this tell us about the merger of Israel Resilience and Telem?
I do not believe this merger is a case of two leaders who do not agree joining forces out of necessity or expedience. Telem was below the threshold when they merged with Israel Resilience, such that Yaalon would likely not have had a Knesset seat before being invited to join with Gantz. In other words, Gantz did not need to add Telem’s voters to his own. So why did he invite Yaalon to merge with him?
Yaalon was Defense Minister when Gantz was the army’s Chief of Staff. The two know each other well and it is likely that Gantz invited Telem to merge with Israel Resilience because he and Yaalon worked well together, respect each other, and see eye to eye on a number of subjects. It thus seems likely that if Gantz himself is not right wing, he at least doesn’t feel that he veers far enough from it to make merging with a right-wing party an obstacle to his plans.
It is true that Gantz is on record saying he does not want Israel to occupy Palestinians in the long term, but this does not mean that he plans on negotiating a two-state solution. Perhaps he believes that such a solution is only possible well into the future, or maybe he has some other option in mind. It is hard to know, since Gantz’s views, and the goals of Israel Resilience, remain opaque. The matter becomes particularly important when considering yet another merger on the table for Gantz.
Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid are in discussions regarding a merger and this is an entirely different kettle of fish to the merger with Telem from two angles.
On one hand, unlike Telem, Yesh Atid is well above threshold and is predicted to get at least 11 seats, making it the third largest party in Israel. This would make a merger attractive for Gantz, since adding these seats to his own predicted seats puts the merged party in the number one position ahead of Likud.
On the other hand, Yesh Atid has a clearly articulated political platform, which is without doubt left-leaning, differentiating it from the right-leaning Israel Resilience-Telem bloc.
I understand why each might want to merge: Numbers. Separate, Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid are each smaller than Likud; together they are larger. But, as things stand, the merger only really makes sense in the short-term, “anyone but Bibi” sense.
If the issues are paramount, and Israel Resilience is willing to allow Lapid and Yesh Atid’s platform to dominate, or the two parties can design a very clear platform that both groups can agree on, there may be room for a merger. Otherwise, by merging with Israel Resilience, Yesh Atid would be allowing itself to be swallowed up by a right-leaning party, which would be self-defeating since, center-left voters will leave and go to Labor.
If they cannot agree to a clear platform, Yesh Atid and Israel Resilience should remain separate. If one of them does beat Likud, or if they can join with left wing parties to block Likud forming a government, there is always time to search for agreement in the coalition talks.