After Election Flop, Meretz and Labor Consider Merger

Left-wing leader considering linkup with Arab party too, 'to have a more significant left-wing element, Jewish and Arab' ■ Hadash rules out partnership with 'hypocritical' Meretz

Labor chief Avi Gabbay and Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg.
Ilan Assayag, Olivier Fitoussi

The Labor Party and Meretz have been examining the possibility of a merger, with the addition of candidates from Arab parties, following a bruising election that has halved their representation in the Knesset.

No concrete proposals have been put forward yet but lawmakers in both parties may advance such a step in the near future.

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Arab-majority Hadash rejected calls to join forces "with Meretz or anyone else" for now, arguing that with the six Knesset seats its joined slate with Ta'al gained, it is "the leading and biggest party among the Arab public." Some Labor representatives also expressed reservations about a possible merger. 

Labor, with 18 seats in the last Knesset, won only six this time, while Meretz was reduced from five seats to four.

Speaking of a potential merger, Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg told Haaretz that “the components for such a linkup must include Labor, Meretz and a significant Arab figure or party, such as Hadash or a part of it."

"Israel has to have a more significant left-wing element, Jewish and Arab," Zandberg added. "The votes Meretz got in the latest election shows that this is possible. This is the time when there is a chance for things and I intend to help them happen. We need to begin to do this now. Israeli elections are called by surprise and now is a good time to take a step.”

Both Meretz and Labor were significantly shaken and lost a core base of supporters to the Kahol Lavan party. Meretz owes at least one of its four seats to Arab voters. Zandberg said that in hindsight, her proposal to Labor chairman Avi Gabbay to unite before the elections would have been the correct move to make.

“I proposed this because I expected a tsunami. I wanted to do it not as a lifeline because we had no choice but as a part of a more significant move by the left,” Zandberg said.

Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich wrote on Facebook this week that there had to be a distinction drawn between a possible linkup between Labor and Kahol Lavan or Meretz. But another Labor lawmaker, who asked to remain anonymous, said any linkup of the party with Meretz would likely damage the party’s base of support.

“It could be that linking up with Meretz is the right move,” the lawmaker said, “but such a unification could split the Labor Party and its supporters. Labor has a significant hawkish branch that has no common language with Meretz and its messages, and such a situation could split the party.”

Another senior Labor figure said: “All talk about uniting with Meretz at this stage is too early and unnecessary. At the moment the party has to undergo a healing phase. It has to choose a new chairperson. It has to understand how to confront its core base and see how to build itself into an alternative with only six Knesset seats.”

Labor Party chairman Gabbay has made clear he intends to leave his post as soon as possible. In talks with senior party figures he confirmed that he considered resigning the night of the election as soon as the failure became clear, but he didn’t want his departure to look like he was abandoning ship.

Tal Rousso, the number two on the Labor slate, also considered dropping out of the party on Thursday in light of the party’s electoral failure, but later reneged.

In the coming days Gabbay is expected to lead discussions about whether to move up a party leadership contest, which would be held within three months, or name a temporary chairperson and have the election held at a later time. Senior Labor figures said that if there’s a decision to name a temporary chairperson the leading candidate for the job is lawmaker Amir Peretz, but Peretz has apparently not decided whether he would be interested in taking the job.

Hadash lawmaker Youssef Jabareen harshly criticized some Meretz lawmakers who opposed a bill he proposed, to define Israel a "democratic and equal" state, as an antithesis to the Nation-State Law. Their vote "exposes Meretz's hypocrisy," Jabareen said.

"However, we'll keep cooperating with opposition parties for a public front, as broad as possible, against the government's occupation and discrimination policies," he added.