Israel's Left Must Unite or Die

Labor-Gesher Chairman Amir Peretz gestures during a consultation with President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in Jerusalem, September 23, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

After the last election Amir Peretz was in a particularly belligerent mood. With a bitter smile he complained that Haaretz had missed the mark – after 30 articles against him, one article in his favor got in by mistake. He continued by claiming that he took three seats from the right, and was able to cite how many people voted for Labor-Gesher in Ashkelon in the September election campaign as compared to the one in April.

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He was unwilling to include in this count those who voted for Orli Levi-Abekasis in the first election. Mathematically, it’s hard to explain how then-Labor leader Avi Gabbay’s six seats in the April election plus the almost two seats of Levi-Abekasis, plus three seats that ostensibly came from the right-wing bloc, ended up with six seats for the merged party in the second election.

The leader of Labor-Gesher compared himself to the leader of an elite commando squad who was willing to endanger his political future in order to “commit suicide” on the rival army, the right-wing bloc. All the explanations that he was also endangering his entire camp fell on ears deafened by nerves and frustration.

To his credit it should be said that at least prior to the upcoming third election he is not ruling out a merger with the Democratic Union. Levi-Abekasis doesn’t want to hear about it, but her range of options is limited. If Peretz agrees to a merger, she can resign and go home or swallow her pride. Peretz believes that this is not the time to make decisions. They have to try to run separately and make a final decision in the last week. Who makes a decision any earlier?

As of now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the right have a chance to approach 61 seats only if one of the left-wing parties fails to pass the electoral threshold. According to a survey by the right-wing religious weekly Makor Rishon over the weekend, the Democratic Union won’t pass the electoral threshold. In such an event, the right gets 57 seats with a potential to grow. In the surveys predicting that the Democratic Union will pass the electoral threshold, the right gets 52 seats, in one survey only 50. Peretz’s decision could therefore determine who will win, the center-left bloc or the right-wing bloc.

Peretz’s main argument is that his research – which amounts to one somewhat outdated survey and several focus groups – indicates that together, the two parties are worth seven seats and separately they are worth 11. Even if that’s true, it’s clear that the four seats lost by the Joint List will remain inside the camp.

The second possibility is that almost four seats will go to waste. It’s not worth the risk. The Democratic Union and Labor-Gesher are entering an almost impossible election campaign. The few plans on their agenda have been sidelined. More than ever only one question remains: Yes on Bibi, no on Bibi. On this question, Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz has proven that he is no less pure and holy than they.

There is one thing that Peretz and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz can easily agree on – the desire to get rid of Labor MK Stav Shaffir. Peretz says that after he was elected she shocked him by presenting him with conditions and demands as though she had won the election. He says that in Meretz they are also licking the wounds of the campaign with Shaffir. When the Democratic Union negotiating team sat with the Kahol Lavan team, the members were surprised to hear their cell phones buzz. Shaffir had posted the list of demands for joining the government, not exactly the list with which the members had come. Why should we sit with you, asked the Kahol Lavan members.

That’s only an illustration of how the tactic of “Let’s wait until the final days” is far from wise. To draw up a slate that is based on Laborite Itzik Shmuli and Shaffir, who can’t stand each other; Meretz’s Essawi Freige, who has to be in a realistic slot; Tamar Zandberg, who has just given up running for the leadership of Meretz in exchange for the promise of a “joint leadership”; and Levi-Abekasis, who always requires a special effort – this is a mission that will be very hard to accomplish in two or three days.