Avi Gabbay, chairman of the Israeli Labor Party, addresses a conference in March. Photo: AFP
Avi Gabbay, chairman of the Israeli Labor Party, addresses a conference in March. Photo: AFP

Israel’s center-left opposition dramatically split on Tuesday ahead of the election planned for April 9, with leader Avi Gabbay announcing he would no longer remain allied with veteran politician Tzipi Livni as she next to him.

The announcement is the death knell for their Zionist Union alliance, which secured the second-largest number of seats in the last general election in 2015 but has since fallen out of favor with the public, according to 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.

Since Gabbay took over as head of Labour in 2017, his partnership with Livni had been uneasy and it was unclear if the alliance would continue for the election.

He inherited the partnership from the previous Labour leader, Isaac Herzog.

“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 MPs.

“That didn’t happen in this partnership,” he said, adding that he believed voters agreed.

Livni approached the podium immediately after he spoke and said rather tersely that she would need time to consider Gabbay’s announcement before responding.

At a separate press conference later, Livni admitted Gabbay’s announcement had taken her by surprise, rejected insinuations that she was disloyal and said the split was ultimately for the best.

Recalling the original union with Herzog, Livni called it “a true partnership” between leaders who shared a vision.

“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.”

Livni stressed she wasn’t dwelling on the past and would remain focused on ousting Netanyahu in the upcoming vote.

“What’s more important than dismantling the Zionist Union is fighting for Zionism,” she said.

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse