The newly elected leader of Israel’s Labor party, Avi Gabbay, kicked off his campaign to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday. Polls suggest Gabbay’s party would remain in second place, behind Netanyahu’s Likud, in a future Knesset election.
“The state of Israel is headed to elections, we just don’t know the date,” Gabbay said at a press conference in Tel Aviv.
Gabbay said Labor needs to nearly double in size, from 52,000 members to “100,000 by the next election.” Regarding Netanyahu, he vowed, “We will replace him. We will bring in the 30 [Knesset] seats necessary to replace him.”
“The campaign to replace Netanyahu begins today,” Gabbay added.
Polls conducted following Gabbay’s rise to the Labor leadership suggest that the Zionist Union alliance, which includes the Labor and Hatnuah parties, would come in second behind Likud in the next election. In Israel’s electoral system, the leader of the party securing the most Knesset seats receives the first opportunity to form a governing coalition.
An Israeli Channel 2 poll found that the Zionist Union would garner 20 Knesset seats to Likud’s 25 in a future election, while a Channel 10 poll showed the Zionist Union faring better, with 24 seats to Likud’s 29. In the most recent Israeli election in 2015, the Zionist Union won 24 seats and Likud amassed 30.
After winning his party’s leadership, Gabbay pledged support for a two-state solution and promised to keep Jerusalem unified in any negotiations with the Palestinians.
“My positions are the positions of the Labor party—two states for two people, clear social economic and social democratic policies, and protecting the High Court of Justice,” Gabbay told Yedioth Ahronoth. “Jerusalem will remain unified in every scenario. There can be no negotiations about it.”
A day after the Labor election, Gabbay met with Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Hoenlein said he was “impressed by Mr. Gabbay’s openness and his understanding of the issues.”
“We have had a long relationship with [immediate past Labor leader] Isaac Herzog and other Labor party leaders over the years, which will continue with Mr. Gabbay under his new leadership,” Hoenlein added.