Israeli ministers Benny Gantz and Gideon Saar agree to merge parties

The country will hold its fifth elections in under four years in November

Israel's Defence Minister and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, right, with Justice Minister and New Hope leader Gideon Saar. Photo: AFP
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The leaders of two parties in Israel’s departing government coalition have announced they will run as political partners in the coming parliamentary elections.

Sunday's announcement by Gideon Saar and Benny Gantz could lead to the latter becoming the head of one of the biggest groups in the 120-seat parliament.

It was the first shift in Israel’s political landscape since the Knesset voted to dissolve itself on June 30 and send the electorate back to the polls.

Israel will hold its fifth elections in under four years in November after the government led by prime minister Naftali Bennett collapsed last month.

Previous elections were largely referendums on long-time leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s fitness to serve as prime minister while under indictment for corruption.

Mr Netanyahu was investigated in 2016 for accepting bribes, fraud and breach of public trust, but was not formally indicted until 2019. His trial is ongoing.

Mr Gantz, a former army chief of staff, heads the centrist Blue and White party and serves as Israel’s defence minister. After speculation that he might join a coalition with Mr Netanyahu, Mr Gantz told journalists at a press conference last month he "would do everything to prevent the formation of an alternative government in this Knesset under Netanyahu."

Mr Saar is a former member of the once-dominant Likud party who broke ranks and formed his New Hope party. He is currently justice minister.

“Netanyahu, unfortunately, prioritises his personal interests over those of the country. That’s already caused terrible damage to the state of Israel, to the economy, to our social fabric,” Mr Saar told The Times of Israel, when he formed the New Hope party.

Both were vital members of the alliance of eight diverse parties that joined forces last year to oust Mr Netanyahu after 12 years in office.

Mr Gantz said the two parties were joining forces to provide voters with a strong centrist option to help end the country’s protracted political crisis.

“Today, we are laying the foundation of the next government,” he said.

Mr Saar said the aim was to break the political deadlock and form “a broad national unity government that is not dependent upon the fringes.” He said Mr Gantz was best suited to lead as prime minister.

Updated: July 11, 2022, 2:30 PM