Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and lawmaker Ofer Shelah both announced on Thursday that their recently formed political parties will not run in the upcoming election in March.
The announcement came after Huldai's new party, The Israelis, began cratering in public polling and Shelah's talks with Labor Party Chairwoman Merav Michaeli about a potential merger collapsed.
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Both had hoped to help stop Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming the next government. In his announcement, Shelah, who broke from Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party to form his Tnufa party in the runup to the election, cited a desire to make sure he didn't draw votes away from other parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc, which could result in parties failing to cross the threshold required for entering the Knesset.
Huldai said he had thought that "on the basis of my experience and actions in public service, I would manage to bring together a significant political force to replace the regime ... I worked with excellent people who care, and I thank each and every one of them from the bottom of my heart. Unfortunately, we did not succeed in this task.
"I will continue to assist as much as I can to replace this bad regime," Huldai said.
Associates of Huldai expressed frustration over the failure of negotiations to merge with other parties, saying that the Meretz party wanted to run alone. A source in Huldai's The Israelis said the party believed that it was crucial to create a unified bloc between the three parties. Another source in the party voiced concern that Meretz and Labor would both be competing to pass the electoral threshold and that in a nightmare scenario, they would both fail.
Michaeli, for her part, praised Huldai and urged him to return to Labor. "Despite his dropping out of the race, I call on him to return to being a member of the Labor Party, and I told him that I would welcome any advice and any assistance he can give," she said.
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Shelah lamented in his announcement that while other countries appeared to be moving toward social democracy, Israel was withdrawing into "nationalism, an economy for the wealthy, social division and a war on democratic values. This is, in my view, an existential danger greater than any external threat." He said he had strongly advocated for a merger between Labor, his party and Huldai's party, to no avail. "Labor Chairwoman Merav Michael decided that she would like to run alone," he said. "I wish her success." He also vowed to do whatever possible to help prevent Netanyahu from forming another government.
Associates of Shelah said he had never posed any preconditions for a merger and that Michaeli had at no point expressed a desire for a merger with either Shelah or Huldai.