Israeli Left-wing Alliance Mulls Breakup After Poor Election Result

Labor-Gesher-Meretz's leadership expected at least 10 Knesset seats, but got only seven

Jonathan Lis
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Orli Levi-Abekasis, left, Amir Peretz, center, and Nitzan Horowitz speak at a press conference after exit polls were published in Israel's election, Tel Aviv, March 2, 2020.
Orli Levi-Abekasis, left, Amir Peretz, center, and Nitzan Horowitz speak at a press conference after exit polls were published in Israel's election, Tel Aviv, March 2, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani
Jonathan Lis

In the aftermath of Labor-Gesher-Meretz’s poor showing on Election Day, the party’s three leaders, MKs Amir Peretz, Nitzan Horowitz and Orli Levi-Abekasis, are expected to meet soon to decide the future of their three party alliance.

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The string of failures by Meretz and Labor over the three election cycles held in the past year will force the left-wing camp to recalculate its path. Both parties wonder whether they could run on their own in the next election, and there are those who are already working behind the scenes to lay the foundations for a new left-wing party.

Levi-Abekasis has become the target of wooing by Likud, based on estimates that she might defect and grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the support he needs to form a new and stable governing coalition. Levi-Abekasis heads the Gesher party, so that her movement from bloc to bloc would not entail the same sanctions that could be applied to other Knesset members. Senior Labor Party officials believe she will not rush to defect.

“As long as Peretz remains and decides not to join Netanyahu, Orli will not betray him” one party official said. “They have a strong alliance. He threw himself under a bus in order to bring her into a union with Meretz. There is no scenario in which she’ll act against his wishes.”

The leftist Zionist parties, which may be in the opposition in the coming Knesset term, have been dealt a heavy blow. Labor won just three seats in Monday’s election and Meretz is waiting for final results to determine whether they have two or three seats. Sources close to Peretz said they thought he would not resign as party chief despite the debacle at the polls.

MK Itzik Shmuli was the only one of the three elected Labor MKs (the other two being Peretz and Merav Michaeli) to openly criticize the way his party functioned during the campaign.

“At the decisive moment we were cut in half, and the blow was severe,” Shmuli posted on social networks. “If we blame everyone else instead of looking inwards with honesty, we’ll never return to what we were. What’s needed is even a shred of reckoning, before looking forward and embarking on a journey of rejuvenation. Seven seats for three parties, with only three going to Labor, is the most miserable result ever attained. Were it not for the union I advocated, the Zionist left would have been erased.”

A senior Labor official felt that without the union, at least one of the parties would not have won enough seats for a single Knesset seat in the latest poll. The fact that the last three elections revolved around one person, amid attempts to topple Netanyahu, made Peretz and Horowitz irrelevant. The social, diplomatic and cultural agendas they were offering made almost no impression on the public. The controversial attempts by Peretz to recruit supporters among right-wing voters in peripheral “development” towns in the previous cycle lost their oomph this time, due to difficulties in convincing voters to support Meretz as part of the package.

One candidate in the alliance criticized the way the campaign was conducted. “Peretz decided to wage a personal campaign, to highlight himself and Levy-Abekasis, and the public showed him what it thinks of them: 150 votes in Beit Shean (Levi-Abekasis’ birthplace), and three percent support in Sderot (Peretz’s city). Amir is a person of the old world, who didn’t understand that appointing cabinet members is the kind of wheeling-dealing that repels voters rather than drawing them in. The worst thing was his last-minute spin about closing a deal with Kahol Lavan about forming a minority government supported by the Joint List and Yisrael Beiteinu. This hurt our camp critically and lost us significant support by center-right voters.”

Labor-Gesher-Meretz slate.

Key party figures such as Shmuli, Michaeli, Tamar Zandberg and Ilan Gilon were moved out of the limelight to highlight the three leaders, a move which evoked much anger in the party.

Peretz was convinced just before the election that he had momentum. When surveys suggested that he’d garner 10 seats, he assessed that he’d get even one more than that in the two days before the polling booths opened.

But Kahol Lavan, which needed to halt its slide in the polls, embarked on a campaign meant to draw voters away from Labor-Gesher-Meretz. “They spent millions in trying to sweep up our voters at the last minute,” a party official said. “Kahol Lavan did not offer an ideological alternative to Netanyahu, presenting themselves as a Likud backup team without criminal indictments. They failed to bring in right-wing voters who could augment the bloc.”

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