Centre-left opposition splinters ahead of Israeli election

Israel's centre-left opposition dramatically split on Tuesday ahead of an April 9 election, with leader Avi Gabbay announcing he would no longer partner with veteran politician Tzipi Livni as she sat stone-faced next to him.

The announcement means the end of their Zionist Union alliance, which secured the second most seats in the last general election in 2015, but has since slipped in opinion polls.

The Zionist Union included Gabbay's Labour party and Livni's Hatnuah. It won 24 out of 120 seats in 2015, behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud, which won 30.

Gabbay’s partnership with Livni, which he inherited from previous Labour leader Isaac Herzog, had been uneasy since he took over the party’s helm in 2017.

"I still believe in partnership, in connections, in uniting a large camp committed to change, but successful connections necessitate friendship, upholding agreements and commitment to a course," Gabbay told a meeting of Zionist Union parliament members.

"That didn't happen in this partnership," he said, adding that he believed voters agreed.

Livni approached the podium immediately afterwards and said tersely she would take time to reflect on Gabbay's announcement before responding.

At a separate press conference later, the former foreign minister admitted Gabbay's announcement had taken her by surprise, rejected insinuations she lacked loyalty and said the split was ultimately for the best.

"Gabbay was right about one thing today -- it was never a real partnership between us, because he never wanted a partnership," she said. "The way he ended it today is proof."

Pre-election realignments

Gabbay's decision is the latest realignment ahead of the election and more are expected.

On Saturday, two right-wing ministers, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, announced they were splitting from their Jewish Home party to form a new grouping that they hope will attract a mixture of secular and religious voters.

Benny Gantz, a popular former armed forces chief of staff, has also signalled his intention to run by forming a new centrist party.

Netanyahu currently leads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israel's history and says he would like to have a similar coalition after elections.

Opinion polls predict his Likud party will take between 27 and 31 seats, despite corruption allegations against its leader, while Zionist Union was credited with just eight to nine seats.

Israel’s attorney general is expected to announce his decision on whether to charge Netanyahu in the coming months. The premier would not be required to step down if indicted.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)