Labor Party, Meretz Announce Merger Ahead of Israel Election

Days before deadline, two parties join forces, leaving out co-leader of defunct left-wing slate and no Arab politicians in top 10 slots

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, right, and Labor chairman Amir Peretz after deciding to merge their parties for Israel's 2020 elections, December 12, 2020
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, right, and Labor chairman Amir Peretz after deciding to merge their parties for Israel's 2020 elections, December 12, 2020Credit: Meretz / Twitter
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israel's two mainstream left-wing parties, Labor-Gesher and Meretz, announced Monday that they would run together in Israel's March 2 general election.

Labor chairman Amir Peretz and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz agreed overnight Sunday that Peretz would lead the joint slate and Gesher head Orli Levi-Abekasis would be placed in the second spot on the roster.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 56Credit: Haaretz

Labor and Gesher teamed up ahead of the September 17 election, in which they managed to garner six out of 120 Knesset seats.

Horowitz will be placed third on the joint ticket, lawmakers Tamar Zandberg and Itzik Shmuli fourth and fifth respectively. Stav Shaffir, who was considered a rising star in Labor, but defected before the September vote to co-lead the Democratic Union, won't be included in the slate.

Over the weekend Meretz offered Shaffir the fifth slot on the slate, placing her between the fifth and tenth spots on the slate. Meretz sources said it hasn't been officially decided not to include Shaffir, but adding that chances that she would join are slim.

In the September election Meretz, Shaffir, Ehud Barak and former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan ran together under the Democratic Union slate, which dissolved after the previous election. It received five seats.

According to most recent public opinion polls, both Labor-Gesher and Meretz would have garnered similar levels of support to what the parties got in Israel's September election, but officials in both parties were concerned they were inching closer to the 3.25-percent electoral threshold.

Asked if Shaffir has a place on the joint ticket in an interview with Army Radio, Shmuli said: "We're looking ahead, I'm not dwelling on anything that happened in the past. We will not intervene in Democratic Union's decision how to place its lawmakers on the slate. Stav has made her choice, she left Labor."

In June 2019 Shaffir faced off Shmuli as they ran in the Labor primary election, and both were eventually overtaken by Peretz. Shaffir later decided to live Labor for Democratic Union.

Shaffir said on Monday she would meet with her supporters "in the coming days ... to decide where we're headed." She would likely miss a Wednesday deadline to formally register party rosters for her potential return to Labor-Meretz.

No Arab candidate in top 10 spots

Esawi Freige, the most senior Arab lawmaker in Meretz, who was bumped down to the 11th spot, expressed his furor about his placement and called to annul the agreement with Golan, which would bump up Freige to the eighth place on the joint ticket.

"There are many generals in the left-wing bloc, but Meretz was the only party that tried to build a Jewish-Arab partnership, which we can't toss away," Freige said.

The lawmaker added that "we should support the right and important merger with Labor, and oppose the harmful and redundant agreement with Golan and Democratic Union."

Following the announcement, Meretz lawmaker Ilan Gilon said that this union "sparks the flame of hope for a just society and a civilized society that aspires for peace. Zionism, socialism and the brotherhood of nations are back."

A statement from both parties said that Peretz and Horowitz reached a deal during their meeting yesterday, hours after the latter had said there was "no choice" but for the factions to merge.

"We must head toward merging with Meretz," Peretz said at a meeting of party leaders. "There's no choice, even if we're doing it against our will," he added.

Peretz had staunchly resisted pressure to do so in the April and September elections.

Sources involved in the negotiations leading to the merger, told Haaretz that Kahol Lavan officials exerted heavy pressure on Peretz, convincing him to unite with Meretz.

The officials presented Peretz with polls showing that his party is likely not to pass the electoral threshold if it runs alone. In addition, Kahol Lavan has recently examined ways in which it can help Labor and Meretz to run together.

Later on Monday, Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz welcomed the merger. "I'm glad things worked out and welcome the union. Amir Peretz, Orli Levi-Abekasis and Nitzan Horowitz acted with responsibility and reached the right conclusion that they are stronger together."

Gantz added that Israel need a party left to the centrist Kahol Lavan.

The parties running in the coming election have until Wednesday to submit their final rosters.

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