Despite Doubts, Israeli Left-wing Parties Due to Discuss Election Merger

Labor chairman fears attrition of 'soft right' voters, with parties facing deadline to submit Knesset slates ahead of March 2 vote

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Israel's Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz, left, with Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz, July 2019
Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz, left, with Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz, in July. Credit: credit?
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israeli Labor and Meretz parties are expected to discuss the possibility of running together in the upcoming Knesset election, say sources familiar with talks between the two parties.

Negotiating teams on their behalf – or the two leaders themselves – are expected to meet in the next few days, in advance of the deadline for formal submission of party slates to the Central Elections Committee, in nine days' time.

Sources in both parties confirm that unofficial feelers have been put out in an attempt to reach understandings, including talks between Labor MK Itzik Shmuli and Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg.

MK Orli Levi-Abekasis, head of the Gesher faction of the Labor Party, July 18, 2019
MK Orli Levi-Abekasis, head of the Gesher party which merged with Labor, in July.Credit: Nir Keidar

Both sides are concerned that running together could bear a heavy price. Labor worries that it could lose two seats from the “soft right” voters and residents of the periphery who voted for the party because of its merger with Orli Levi-Abekasis' Gesher

Meretz, under chairman Nitzan Horowitz, is concerned that Labor’s ostensible willingness to enter negotiations with it is merely a ploy by the party's leader, Amir Peretz, to reduce his colleagues' pressure on him to attempt a unification.

“It’s too soon to tell whether there is a basis for a connection between the two parties,” says one source involved in the move to merge.

A Labor official said they would go a long way toward toppling the government under Benjamin Netanyahu, but have no interest in joining forces with Meretz if that would only perpetuate right-wing rule and reduce voter turnout among the center-left.

Some polls indicate that the parties would both get more votes than they did in the September election if they run separately in March.

Labor sources have clarified that any hook-up with Meretz would have to be coordinated with Levi-Abekasis, who has not favored the idea up until now. There are those in both Labor and Meretz, however, who think she may prove flexible.

If Labor and Meretz do want to collaborate, their party committees have to pass a resolution to that effect; under Labor regulations, a meeting of members must be called 72 hours in advance. Because of the tight deadline, any agreement would have to be reached by the end of this week, or very early next week at the latest.

MK Stav Shaffir of Meretz-Democratic Union, who is also head the Green Movement, September 17, 2019
MK Staf Shaffir, of Meretz-Democratic Union, who also heads the Green Movement, in September.Credit: Nir Keidar

Many in Meretz doubt the chances of a union with Labor and are concentrating on creating a new Democratic Union ticket, including the Democratic Israel list and Stav Shaffir of the Green Movement, who left Labor last summer and was No. 2 on the Democratic Union slate in September. Meretz sources note that at present, however, the slate is topped by Horowitz followed by Zandberg in second place, and then by their Meretz colleagues Yair Golan, Ilan Gilon, Isawi Freij and Mossi Raz – and “Shaffir isn’t in the picture.” Another source notes that she is a "red flag" and the merger with Labor is a priority.

Members of Shaffir's inner circle think the veto against her can be lifted. Moreover, Peretz may not have forgiven her for abandoning him for Horowitz's Meretz-Democratic Union, but that would become a moot point if the Labor leader decides to do the same.

Meanwhile, Shaffir has come up with a plan to join forces with Meretz that calls for Freij to put in second place instead of her on the new slate, to emphasize Israeli Arab-Jewish cooperation in the party. However, if Meretz rejects her scheme, her confidants say, she won’t allow the party to use the name Democratic Union.

For the time being Meretz has indeed dismissed her initiative and say they’d rather place her in the fifth or sixth spot on the ticket.

“A poll we held showed that Shaffir doesn’t add any seats at all,” one member notes. “There is no reason for her to be in second or third place."

For his part, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, founder of Democratic Israel, says he is not a candidate in the next election, but he is encouraging Shaffir’s inclusion in the Democratic Union ticket.

“Stav Shaffir and Yair Golan are an asset and must be part of the Democratic Union,” Barak tweeted recently, adding that the party must be preserved and not shattered, which would endanger the entire center-left camp.