Labor, Livni Agree to Join Forces Ahead of Elections

Polls predict center-left bloc comprised of Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah party and Labor, headed by Isaac Herzog, can beat Netanyahu's Likud.

Moti Milrod

Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog and Hatnuah party leader Tzipi Livni agreed on Wednesday to run on a joint center-left ticket in the upcoming elections.

Livni and Herzog - presenting themselves as a viable "Zionist-center" alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud party Livni said has been taken over by right-wing extremists - announced that they have agreed on a rotation system in which Herzog would serve as prime minister for the first two years, followed by Livni.

"The time has come for a change," Herzog said at a joint press conference with Livni. "There is another path, a path in which the Zionist camp joins ranks and walks together for the good of the country, together, for the future of our children and grandchildren and all citizens of the State of Israel."

"Livni and I are offering you new hope and a better future," he said. "Hope for an involved and caring government, one that is serious and takes initiative, that will do a lot more and talk a lot less."

Right-wing extremists "are turning this country into an isolated, closed and alienated state," said Livni, a former Likud member who joined Ariel Sharon's Kadima party before founding Hatnuah before the last election. "This election is a historic opportunity to return the country to ourselves."

Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On welcomed the alternative to a third consecutive Netanyahu term (and fourth since 1996).

"Meretz welcomes the important move to create a center-left bloc that will lead to an alternative to Netanyahu's far-right bloc," she said, describing Meretz as the left-wing part of a center-left bloc led by Herzog and Livni.

While Labor, Hatnuah and Meretz repeatedly described Netanyahu's Likud as far-right and extremist, Likud depicted the Herzog-Livni ticket as left-wing, avoiding the term "center."

"It's clear that the elections this time are between the left-wing camp, led by Herzog and Livni, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud, led by the national camp," Likud said in a statement.

Herzog and Livni traveled together last week to the annual Saban Forum in Washington, and spent long hours in an effort to clinch a deal between their respective parties.

Their decision to form a joint slate was based in part on recent internal party polls showing that it would increase their combined representation in the Knesset. A poll conducted by Rafi Smith's Smith Consulting and published in Globes last week indicated that a joint centrist bloc would win 24 Knesset seats, while Likud would have only 22 seats.

A poll conducted by Channel 10 on Tuesday predicted that a unified political bloc comprising of the Labor Party and Hatnuah (would defeat the Likud party headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The poll, conducted by Camil Fuchs from Tel Aviv University, also found that Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi would win 15, a party led by ex-Likud MK Moshe Kahlon would win 13 seats, Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu would win 11 seats and Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid would win 10 seats. Shas would win 7 seats, Meretz 6, Hadash 5 and the United Arab List-Taal 5.

Even if former Minister of Interior Gideon Sa'ar would head the Likud in the election, the poll found the Labor-Hatnuah bloc would still beat Likud by a margin of 22-20.