Israel centrists unite for Netanyahu fight

Two centrists will join forces and run together to challenge Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu.
Two centrists will join forces and run together to challenge Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu.

Two centrist challengers of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have announced they'll join forces and run together in the April 9 general election.

Former army chief of staff Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid agreed on a rotation if they win, with Gantz serving as prime minister for the first two and a half years and Lapid for the other two.

A joint statement released by the two on Thursday said that, "motivated by national responsibility", they had agreed to form a joint list.

"We can bring down Netanyahu's government," Lapid said.

"There is an historic opportunity to change the national priorities. To ensure our security, to fight the cost of living, to save the health care system and to kick-start a diplomatic process. And to change the way we treat one another, to remind us that we're a family."

Another former army chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, also joined the new party, bringing the number of ex-chiefs of staff to three, along with Moshe Yaalon.

The new party said in a statement it would "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."

Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud party, is expected to face a recommendation by the attorney-general for corruption charges, pending a hearing, before the elections.

His party has been found to have a significant and consistent lead over any other in the many polls that have been published, but the recent merger should enable Gantz's Israel Resilience party and Lapid's Yesh Atid to at least pull level.

Netanyahu has been working to strengthen the right-wing bloc. On Wednesday he facilitated a merger between the religious-nationalist far-right parties Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) and Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power). The latter was unlikely to have passed the electoral threshold alone.

Australian Associated Press