Center-left Merger Necessary Ahead of Next Election, Says Labor Chairman

Avi Gabbay says center-left must run as three parties instead of five, calls on Kahol Lavan to cancel its rotation between co-leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid

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Avi Gabbay speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, on Friday, May 31, 2019.
Avi Gabbay speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, on Friday, May 31, 2019.Credit: Ilan Assayag

The Labor Party must run in the September 17 election on a joint ticket with either Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan or left-wing Meretz, Labor chief Avi Gabbay said Friday.

“In the next election, the center-left must have only three parties instead of five. If there are more, we will lose,” Gabbay said at a conference in Tel Aviv, adding that the center-left camp included Labor, Kahol Lavan, Meretz and the two Arab slates.

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On Wednesday night, the Knesset opted for a new election after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to meet the deadline to establish a new government after the April 9 election.

Gabbay, however, said it was not yet clear which of the five entities on the center-left should merge.

“Either Labor with Meretz, Labor with Kahol Lavan, or a different constellation," he said. "If we don’t move five Knesset seats from one side to the other, nothing will happen. There are things that need to be done, such as the cancellation of Kahol Lavan's stupid rotation."

Kahol Lavan's top two leaders, Gantz and Yair Lapid, had agreed to take turns as prime minister if the party formed a government after the April 9 election.

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On Wednesday, just a few minutes after the vote in the Knesset, Meretz chief Tamar Zandberg proposed that her party and Labor merge to create “a large and substantial bloc alongside the center.”

Zandberg made a similar call on the eve of the April election, after Gantz and Lapid announced their tie-up. Gabbay rejected Zandberg’s offer at the time, saying opinion polls and other research by Labor showed that the alliance would not increase the total number of seats the two parties would win. In the end, Labor won six seats and Meretz five – while Kahol Lavan tied Netanyahu's Likud at 35.

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Not all of Labor’s Knesset members support uniting with Meretz. “In the present state of Labor, we need to link up with Kahol Lavan and run jointly with them," one Labor MK told Haaretz.

“There are no major differences today between Gantz and Lapid and us. Joining Kahol Lavan could make it easier for Labor to get into a governing coalition after the election, whether Gantz or Likud form it – if Netanyahu leaves,” the MK added.

"Being part of the coalition could improve Labor’s public image, while remaining in the opposition for another term would kill us. Joining up with Meretz, in comparison, could create a problematic image for us and drive away voters who don’t want to support a left-wing party – only a party of the center.”

The day before the Knesset voted to dissolve itself and call a new election, Netanyahu offered the Labor Party the Defense Ministry portfolio in a new government. Gabbay considered the proposal even though he promised voters before the April election that he would never join a Netanyahu government.

Four of the six Labor MKs in the Knesset that is being dissolved – Itzik Shmuli, Stav Shaffir, Amir Peretz and Shelly Yacimovich – objected, and on Wednesday evening Gabbay tweeted that after a discussion with the party’s MKs, he was rejecting the offer.

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