Israel election: Netanyahu challengers form alliance

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud is tipped to win April elections and form another right-wing government. But after his main challengers announced a joint list, the race could take an unexpected twist.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's two chief challengers joined forces on Thursday ahead of April elections in a bid to overcome the right-wing Likud and its allies.

Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff, and Yair Lapid said they would form a joint list for the April 9 election and rotate as prime minister.

"The party will put forward a new leadership team which will guarantee the security of Israel and will reunite the divided elements of Israeli society," they said in a statement.

Read moreLocal and regional elections in Israel highlight deep divisions

Gantz leads the new Israel Resilience party, while Lapid heads Yesh Atid, which currently has 11 seats in the parliament.

Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon had previously also joined the Israel Resilience ticket. Former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi will also join the new alliance "out of a sense of the significance of this moment and out of national duty," the statement said.

Under the agreement, Gantz would serve as prime minister for 2 1/2 years followed by Lapid, an ex-finance minister.

Polls suggest a Gantz-Lapid alliance with the backing of former military brass to give it security credentials could pose a challenge to Likud, which is expected to get 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

Promised land, enemy land: Israel 70 years after independence

Long-held hope is victorious

On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, future first prime minister of Israel, declares the state's independence, outlining the Jewish story: "The people kept faith with (the land) throughout their dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom." It was the birth of an internationally recognized Jewish homeland.

Promised land, enemy land: Israel 70 years after independence

The darkest hour

While the controversial idea of a God-given land for Jews has biblical roots, the Holocaust was a close, powerful backdrop for the significance of Israel's founding. Nazi Germany murdered six million Jews across Europe, and those who survived the concentration camps endured expulsion and forced labor. The above photo shows survivors of the Auschwitz camp following liberation.

Promised land, enemy land: Israel 70 years after independence

'Nakba': Arabic for 'catastrophe'

That is the word that Palestinians and their supporters use to mark Israel's independence. About 700,000 Arabs living in Palestine at the time fled as waves of Jewish immigrants arrived to settle in the new Jewish state. The birth of Israel was the start of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which remains unresolved 70 years later despite numerous attempts.

Promised land, enemy land: Israel 70 years after independence

Life on a kibbutz

These land collectives, known as kibbutzim in the plural, were established across Israel following independence. Many were run by secular or socialist Jews in an effort to realize their vision of society.

Promised land, enemy land: Israel 70 years after independence

A state at war

Tensions with its Arab neighbors erupted in the Six-Day War in June 1967. With a surprise attack, Israel is able to swiftly defeat Egypt, Jordan and Syria, bringing the Arab-populated areas of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights under Israeli control. Victory leads to occupation — and more tension and conflict.

Promised land, enemy land: Israel 70 years after independence

Settlements on disputed territory

Israel's settlement policy worsens the conflict with Palestinians. Due to development and expansion of Jewish areas on occupied Palestinian land, the Palestinian Authority accuses Israel of making a future Palestinian state untenable. Israel has largely ignored the international community's criticism of its settlement policy, arguing new construction is either legal or necessary for security.

Promised land, enemy land: Israel 70 years after independence

Anger, hate and stones: The first intifada

In winter 1987, Palestinians begin mass protests of Israel's ongoing occupation. Unrest spreads from Gaza to East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The uprising eventually wound down and led to the 1993 Oslo Accords — the first face-to-face agreement between the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the representative body of the Palestinian people.

Promised land, enemy land: Israel 70 years after independence

Peace at last?

With former US President Bill Clinton as a mediator, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (left) and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat hold peace talks. The result, the Oslo I Accord, is each side's recognition of the other. The agreement leads many to hope that an end to the Israel-Palestine conflict is not far off, but peace initiatives suffer a major setback when Rabin is assassinated two years later.

Promised land, enemy land: Israel 70 years after independence

A void to fill

A right-wing Jewish fanatic shoots and kills Rabin on November 4, 1995, while he is leaving a peace rally in Tel Aviv. Rabin's assassination throws the spotlight on Israel's internal social strife. The divide is growing between centrist and extremist, secular and religious. The photo shows Israel's then-acting prime minister, Shimon Peres, next to the empty chair of his murdered colleague.

Promised land, enemy land: Israel 70 years after independence

Addressing the unspeakable

Nazi Germany's mass murder of Jews weighs on German-Israeli relations to this day. In February 2000, Germany's then-President Johannes Rau addresses the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in German. It is a tremendous emotional challenge for both sides, especially for Holocaust survivors and their descendants, but also a step towards closer relations after unforgettable crimes.

Promised land, enemy land: Israel 70 years after independence

The Israeli wall

In 2002, amid the violence and terror of the Second Intifada, Israel starts building a 107-kilometer-long (67-mile-long) barrier of barbed wire, concrete wall and guard towers between itself and Palestinian areas of the West Bank. It suppresses the violence but does not solve the larger political conflict. The wall grows in length over the years and is projected to reach around 700 kilometers.

Promised land, enemy land: Israel 70 years after independence

A gesture to the dead

Germany's current foreign minister, Heiko Maas, steps decisively into an ever closer German-Israeli relationship. His first trip abroad as the country's top diplomat is to Israel in March 2018. At the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem, he lays a wreath in memory of Holocaust victims.

Reaction on the right

Since Israel was founded in 1948, no one party has formed an outright majority, meaning that the top party has to search for coalition partners. Netanyahu's has been in power for nearly 13 years and currently runs what is considered the most right-wing government in Israeli history. 

Facing three corruption investigations and possible indictment, Netanyahu has taken a further hard turn to the right in the run-up to the election to shore up his religious-nationalist base.

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To rally the right, Netanyahu has sought to label his opponents as "weak" leftists and on Wednesday orchestrated a unification of ultra-right parties with an eye on forming his next coalition government.

The agreement would see three far-right parties — Jewish Home, National Union and Jewish Power — run on a single electoral list instead of running separately.

Likud in a statement said it intended to unite "the ranks in order to ensure that the votes of the right will not be lost."

Jewish Home and National Union have long been aligned, but the move to bring in extreme right Jewish Power is controversial.

Jewish Power's supporters follow the radical ideology of late Rabbi Meir Kahane, the US-born founder of the Jewish Defense League, a terrorist organization formed to "protect Jews from anti-Semitism."

As former head of the Kach party, Kahane served one term in the Knesset in the 1980s and the party was later banned for being racist. He was assassinated in New York in 1990.

cw/rt (AFP, Reuters)

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