Opinion / Labor and Meretz: A Synergy of Electoral Forces

The gap between Likud and Labor in opinion polls - about 10 mandates - creates the impression that the right is sure of an election victory. One of the main reasons for this gap is that former Shas voters - no longer able to vote for a party and a prime minister separately - have transferred their votes to the Likud. On a national level, this is a welcome development, since it strengthens a national party at the expense of a sectorial party. But for the peace camp, the fact that Likud could become the largest party in the Knesset is a problem.

After the election, the president will summon representatives of all the factions with a seat in the Knesset, and ask one of them to form the next government. Officially, the president can ask any Knesset member to carry out this task, but, in practice, he usually follows the tradition of asking the leader of the largest party to do so.

For the peace camp to have any chance of forming the next government, its leaders must head the largest Knesset faction. This is a precondition, but by itself, is not enough. While the Likud cannot merge with the extreme right-wing or with Shas, the Labor Party can forge an alliance with Meretz, to create a united front for peace and social justice based on a true ideological affinity between the two parties. Such an alliance would allow the Labor Party to run neck and neck with the Likud.

Opposition to this idea comes primarily from within Meretz, but not exclusively so. Within the Labor Party, the main bone of contention is that Meretz can garner votes from the far left and from Israeli Arabs, while Labor can earn the support of centrist voters. The argument is that, as separate parties, Labor and Meretz would win more seats than if they united.

On the face of things, this is a valid argument, but it is, in fact, mistaken. A close race between Likud and a new left-wing alliance would make many left-leaning voters, who choose not to support any of the existing parties, leave their homes and vote, with the feeling that their vote could be decisive. A race of this kind could lead the wavering voters, who tend to support a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to vote for a new alliance - one which has a chance of winning.

A new leadership of the Labor Party - one which rejects the idea of a national unity government and one which is not tainted by the failure of the Sharon-Ben-Eliezer government, could reach out to Meretz and other parties, in an effort to present the Israeli public with a new message: During the term of the next government, a border will finally be drawn up between Israel and the Palestinians. If we fail to agree on a border, Israel will determine the lines unilaterally. This is the key to security, to economic welfare and to social justice. Such an alliance and a determined vow could well alter the course of the January 2003 elections.

A recent survey of 1,155 people returned the following data: 64.7 percent of those identifying themselves as left-leaning, 69.4 percent of those identifying themselves as moderate left-wingers, and 33.4 percent of Shinui supports would support a united Meretz/Labor list. When the two parties are running separately, Labor receives around 19 percent of the vote, and Meretz 6 percent. A coalition between the two parties would yield, therefore, around 25 percent of the vote. The same survey, however, reveals that a united Meretz/Labor list would get some 29 percent of the vote, compared to the Likud's 31 percent.

These figures prove, therefore, that the instinctive reaction (that alliances reduce parties' electoral pull, while separate lists increase their `catchment area') is misplaced. Technically, there appears to be nothing preventing a Meretz/Labor alliance. Each party would select its candidates for the Knesset, and, together, they would draw up a joint list, in the hope that by the next elections, the parties would have formally merged. Meretz would not be dragged along by Labor, nor vice versa. Instead, there would be a synergy of electoral forces, the sum of which would be greater than the sum of its parts. Only someone who has already given up hope of winning the forthcoming election would dismiss this proposal out of hand.

Dr. Beilin, a member of Labor Party, is a former justice minister.