Blue and White reportedly moving rightward ahead of March election

Centrist party looking to attract right-wing voters, increase left-wing parties’ chances of entering Knesset, as it pressures Labor to merge with Meretz

Head of Blue and White party Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Ramat Gan, January 1, 2020. (Flash90)
Head of Blue and White party Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Ramat Gan, January 1, 2020. (Flash90)

The Blue and White party’s leadership has decided to move the party rightward in a bid to attract right-wing voters in the upcoming third round of national elections, according to a Monday report.

Party leaders were swayed by research showing the faction could pull votes from the right, and so decided to rule out forming a minority government with the backing of the Joint List alliance of Arab majority parties in the March vote, Channel 13 reported.

After the last elections, the Joint List, for the first time in more than two decades, said it would support a Zionist party in forming a government. Blue and White ultimately decided not to form a minority government based on its support, primarily due to opposition of some right-wing lawmakers with Blue and White.

As part of its move to the right, Blue and White senior party officials told Channel 13 that they had not ruled out Jordan Valley annexation, pending a briefing from senior security personnel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that annexing the Jordan Valley in the West Bank will be one of his key goals if he gets reelected.

Two polls released on Thursday however showed support for Netanyahu’s Likud party remained sturdy following the premier’s request for parliamentary immunity from graft charges, despite the bid’s unpopularity with voters.

Blue and White also hopes to avoid draining votes from left-wing parties for fear they could fail to clear the electoral threshold and enter the Knesset.

Party officials are reportedly irked at Labor party chief Amir Peretz for his refusal to run together with the left-wing Meretz party.

Co-chairmen of the Labor-Gesher party MK Amir Peretz speaks at a faction meeting in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 25, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Blue and White reportedly told Peretz that if his party merged with Meretz, he would be its presidential candidate, and Labor would enter coalition negotiations as if it had won six seats, regardless of how many mandates it had actually secured.

The left-wing bloc has been in disarray as parties across the political spectrum jostle ahead of the March vote.

MK Stav Shaffir, who recently threatened to run independently in the coming elections due to a spat with the Meretz party, one of her partners in the three-party left-wing Democratic Camp, on Saturday offered to drop one place on the combined slate in a bid to preserve the alliance.

Shaffir, who first won public recognition as a leader of the 2011 social justice protests in Israel, left the Labor party to join the Democratic Camp after Peretz ruled out merging with other left-wing parties following his alliance with Orly Levy-Abekasis’s center-right Gesher party ahead of the previous elections.

A rift has developed between Shaffir and Nitzan Horovitz, head of Meretz, the leading faction in the Democratic Camp, which also includes Shaffir’s Green party and Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party.

Democratic Camp party leaders MK Nitzan Horowitz, left, and Stav Shaffir at a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 25, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Polls so far have suggested that as an alliance the Democratic Camp would win up to five seats in the coming elections. Running independently, some or all of the three parties could fail to beat the 3.25% threshold, worth four Knesset seats.

Right-wing figures have also been discussing merger options, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on Saturday on all three parties to the right of his Likud to unite.

Polls published Thursday predicted Blue and White would pick up 35-36 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

Likud, which now has 32 seats, got 33 and 34 seats, respectively, in the polls.

Both polls had the center-left Labor-Gesher party winning five seats, one fewer than it got in the last elections, while the left-wing Democratic Camp alliance got four seats in the Channel 13 survey, also a drop of one.

As the Democratic Camp’s constituent factions have yet to agree on a joint run, Channel 12 had Meretz, the largest party in the alliance, receiving four seats, whereas the new Green Party would fail to clear the minimum electoral threshold.

The polls have predict that the coming vote will still not break the country’s ongoing political impasse.

Israel is heading to its third election in less than a year on March 2 after two previous rounds of voting produced only political deadlock.

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