Analysis

Israel Election Results: The Left Learned the Hard Way That the Whole Is Smaller Than Its Parts

After the April election Labor-Gesher and Meretz thought the time had come to establish a left-wing slate. Now it’s uncertain whether the failed merger can be undone

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Labor Party-Gesher-Meretz's leaders.
Labor-Gesher-Meretz leaders (from left) Nitzan Horowitz, Amir Peretz and Orli Levi-Abekasis on the phones to encourage members of the public to vote for their slate, Mar. 1, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Even though the final vote count is not yet in, the Israeli left took a dramatic hit in Monday's election. Based on available data, it looks now as if only three MKs will represent the Labor Party in the next Knesset, while Meretz will have just two. Current Meretz MK Ilan Gilon and Labor Party lawmakers Omer Bar-Lev and Revital Swid will apparently not be part of the next parliament. MK Yair Golan, in seventh place on the alliance's slate, is teetering on the edge.

Labor Chairman Amir Peretz and Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz faced a cruel choice ahead of this week's election: to either run separately and run the risk that one of their two parties would fail to pass the electoral threshold, or to unite, knowing that the polls predicted that a merger would mean a whole that is smaller than the sum of its parts.

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Bibi went gunning for his only real rival

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Following Avi Gabbay’s dismal showing at the helm of Labor in the April 2019 election, leading members of the parties believed that the historic roles of Labor and Meretz had come to an end, and that it was time to establish an alternative left-wing party that would rev up the public. Now it’s not clear whether the two parties can stand on their own again, even if they can unravel their merger and run separately.

In these last three elections, which were focused on the head-to-head battle between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz – both parties lost their relevance, barely succeeding to influence the agenda or electrify the electorate. There were few takers for the socioeconomic agenda that Peretz sought to promote. Both attempts, in the last two elections, to establish an alternative fell flat: The Democratic Union and the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance both brought the left its poorest showings ever. Peretz’s merger with Gesher's Orli Levi-Abekasis failed to produce results in those votes. The diplomatic alternative that Labor and Meretz presented to counter Trump’s peace plan also drew few supporters, in contrast to the hope of replacing Netanyahu fostered by Kahol Lavan.

At this stage, chances are low that Labor-Gesher-Meretz will be part of the next coalition. Peretz got members of his slate excited in recent weeks with predictions that they would become key partners in a government headed by Gantz. He also hemmed himself in with pledges that will make it very hard for him to join a Netanyahu-led unity government, if one is formed.

The more likely scenario, as things look now, is that Labor-Gesher-Meretz will be in the opposition. If a right-wing government is indeed formed, it will be a tough blow to a left-wing opposition. Labor and Meretz MKs were key players in defanging the nation-state law of its most dangerous elements. They were also a forceful and significant voice in defending the judicial establishment and in rebuffing a series of laws that would mean creeping annexation of the settlements. They may find partners for these battles in Kahol Lavan, but their number and their degree of commitment to those issues remains unclear.

Will Labor and Meretz run together in the next election? Who will lead them? Will Peretz and Horowitz quickly step down and clear the way for new leadership? Are there people waiting in the wings who could form a more successful list?

MK Yair Golan, whose entry into the Knesset, as mentioned, is currently up in the air, could become the leader of a leftist bloc in the next election. One of the keynote speakers at the last Meretz convention, Golan is now seen by some top party figures as a potentially serious alternative to the present leadership, due to the detailed worldview he has presented to them as well as his military background as one of the few Israel Defense Force generals in recent years to make such a clear leftward turn.

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