Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to form a right-wing government, which led to the 21st Knesset being dissolved and a snap election called, has provided a unique opportunity for Israel’s democratic camp. It turns out that rather than the outright victory Netanyahu appeared to have won in the April 9 election, the results were really a tie, and this is what prevented him from forming a government.
The one-time unity of the right-wing bloc, which had been based on ideological similarities and the parties uniting behind the prime minister, has given way to rifts and mutual recriminations. For the first time in a decade of unchallenged right-wing rule, doubts have begun to arise about Netanyahu’s leadership inside his own political base, as the date approaches for his hearings in cases in which he’s suspected of committing bribery, graft and breach of trust.
The opportunity that has been created for a possible change in leadership, and to stop the right from moving ahead on extremist plans to annex territory in the West Bank and destroy the judiciary, makes it essential for supporters of peace and democracy to unify their ranks ahead of the September 17 election. At the very least they must prevent an unnecessary, dangerous squandering of votes for parties that fail to meet the minimum quota for getting into the Knesset, as happened to the smaller right-wing parties in the last election. It would have sufficed for the Hayamin Hahadash party to pass that quota for Netanyahu to have had a firm majority to form a government of immunity, annexation and oppression. But democracy-seekers cannot rely on such happenstance or rely on Avigdor Lieberman to rescue Israel from Netanyahu.
At issue is the fate of two left-wing parties – Meretz, which barely made it to the Knesset, and Labor, which has dwindled to just six seats and whose showing in opinion polls barely scrapes the threshold of votes needed to win Knesset representation. Both parties must unite to strengthen the camp that believes in dividing the land between Israel and the Palestinians, and in civil liberties. Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg understood on the eve of the last election that her party was in a crisis, and proposed an urgent merger with Labor. Labor’s chairman Avi Gabbay rejected her proposal and considered joining the right-wing government, which in the end didn’t come about. Zandberg reneged on the merger idea after the election.
There are certain ideological gaps between some Labor and Meretz people, but they are negligible in comparison to the opportunity that exists to replace Netanyahu, and considering the risk that the left-wing bloc will disintegrate as a result of wasted votes on parties that do not wind up getting into the Knesset. Labor was once a part of an alignment with Mapam, which was one of Meretz’s precursor parties. Most of Meretz’s founders, such as Shulamit Aloni and Yossi Sarid, were Labor breakaways. There is no reason for these parties not to collaborate anew. They do not need to fully merge their institutions, it would suffice for them to run together as a joint list that could also include such figures as Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak and Orli Levi-Abekasis. This would allow each party to preserve its ideological independence while their bloc gets stronger.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.