Labor Figureheads to Support Meretz in Upcoming Elections

Initiative to broaden Meretz lines comes as disillusioned Labor voters associate Kadima with peace.

Central figures on the Israeli left, including former Labor party ministers, writers, spiritual leaders and academics are expected in the coming days to announce their support of Meretz in February's national elections. Some of them will even join the party and contend in the upcoming primary.

Meretz Chairman Haim Oron has held meetings in recent weeks with dozens of prominent figures to strengthen the party, which took 12 Knesset seats in the 1992 election but was reduced to five by the 2006 vote.

Among those who met with Oron and are expected to back Meretz are former labor ministers Shlomo Ben-Ami and Uzi Baram, and former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg. All three have left political life in favor of writing or private business.

Novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman are also expected to support the party, as well as attorney Tzali Reshef, a Peace Now founder who served briefly as former prime minister Ehud Barak's chief of staff and ran for a Knesset seat with Labor.

Gilad Sher, who headed Barak's team in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority between 1999 and 2001, is also likely to join the party ranks, along with Yossi Kuchik, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office during the Barak administration, as well as professors Yossi Yonah and Yossi Dahan.

Current Meretz MKs were assured by the party's leaders in a recent meeting that the newly recruited members would not be guaranteed spots on the party's list. Instead, a handful of them are expected to contend for places among the bottom five candidates.

Due to the recent resignations of MKs Yossi Beilin and Ran Cohen, the second through fifth positions on the party list are likely to be filled by current MKs Zahava Gal-On and Avshalom Vilan, and former MKs Ilan Gilon and Mosi Raz.

The initiative to broaden Meretz's representation was launched after party leaders realized that despite Labor's falling numbers at the ballot box, Meretz has failed to attract voters disappointed with the party, or even those who had voted for the Pensioners Party.

Polls show most such voters prefer Tzipi Livni's Kadima party, which is widely viewed as committed to pursuing peace with the Palestinians.

In talks over assembling a government under her leadership, Livni arrived at terms of an agreement with Meretz, and even promised the party it could count on fielding two ministers.

After the decision to hold early elections, Meretz leaders concluded that to rise above the five or six mandates it expected to receive, it must bolster its forces from beyond the party.