Labor leader Amir Peretz met with members of the newly formed Democratic Camp to discuss a potential tie-up ahead of elections in September, despite Peretz previously ruling out joining forces with the left-wing electoral alliance, according to a Friday TV report.
Peretz has faced growing scrutiny since the formation of the Democratic Camp on Wednesday, which includes Meretz, Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and breakaway Labor MK Stav Shaffir. The announcement of the alliance came amid lingering anger over Peretz’s decision to merge Labor with former lawmaker Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher party, which is further to the right on the political spectrum and had failed to pick up enough votes to enter the Knesset in April’s elections.
According to Channel 12 news, Peretz met with Meretz MK Issawi Frej and IDP member Noa Rothman on Thursday, telling them he could join the Democratic Camp if it would enable the center-left parties to secure a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
“If me merging brings 60 seats to the bloc, I’m with you,” Peretz was quoted saying.
The reported meeting came as a pair of television polls aired Thursday showed Labor faring even worse than the six seats it picked up in April, which marked a record low for the party whose previous iterations led Israel for nearly 30 years after the country’s founding.
With Labor No. 2 Itzik Shmuli hinting he, too, could jump ship, any further drop in support for Labor could bring the party close to the minimum electoral threshold needed to enter Knesset.
While Shmuli has praised the Democratic Camp and not ruled out joining it, the Kan public broadcaster said Friday that he is considering an offer to join the Blue and White party, which finished second to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud in the April elections.
The report did not give any details on the offer.
Separately, Israel’s three main television networks reported that before the Democratic Camp was finalized, the alliance’s No. 3 Yair Golan reached out to Peretz about joining Labor with other unnamed members of Barak’s IDP.
Golan, a former army deputy chief of staff, was reportedly wary of Barak’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced Jewish-American financier who earlier this month was charged with sex trafficking of underage girls.
Golan denied the reports, calling them “political spin.”
Meanwhile, on the right-side of the Israeli political spectrum, Channel 12 reported that despite public declarations by the Union of Right-Wing Parties and the New Right for an alliance, talks between the two factions are failing to progress.
URWP head Rafi Peretz’s demand his party receive six of the first nine seats on the joint slate was reportedly opposed by the New Right’s new leader Ayelet Shaked, as polls have an alliance faring better with her at the helm.
The network said another obstacle is that Peretz’s wife Michal told URWP members that if her husband does not lead a union with the New Right, he won’t be a part of it all.
Earlier this week, a URWP source confirmed that Netanyahu’s wife Sara urged Michal Peretz not to give the top spot to Shaked in any merger agreement. The source also said that the prime minister phoned the URWP head three times in 24 hours to encourage him not to join up with Shaked, who once served as an aide to Netanyahu and is reportedly scorned by his wife.
The prime minister is instead said to be pushing URWP to again ally with the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, a merger he successfully pushed for ahead of April’s elections.
The upcoming September 17 vote was called after the Knesset voted to dissolve itself after Netanyahu failed to form a government before the legal deadline, a move that prevented any other lawmaker from having a shot at forming a ruling majority.
The decision to schedule a fresh vote marked the first time in Israel’s history that an election failed to produce a new government.