Downcast Labor-Gesher-Meretz blames Blue and White for projected poor showing

Poised for humiliating result, Amir Peretz says Benny Gantz’s party ran an ‘irresponsible campaign’ and ‘turned on us’; speculation swirls that his partner could defect to right

The heads of the Gesher, Labor and Meretz party, Orly Levy, Amir Peretz and Nitzan Horowitz at the party headquarters on elections night, in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)
The heads of the Gesher, Labor and Meretz party, Orly Levy, Amir Peretz and Nitzan Horowitz at the party headquarters on elections night, in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

Labor-Gesher-Meretz chairman Amir Peretz on Monday blamed Blue and White’s “irresponsible” campaign for its projected poor showing of six-seven Knesset seats in Monday’s elections, saying the centrist alliance “turned on us.”

The three dovish parties announced in mid-January that they would run on a joint ticket, hoping to buoy left-wing support and ensure that none of the parties fell under the Knesset threshold. But the alliance appeared to backfire, with exit polls signalling that the overall support for the parties had plummeted.

If confirmed, it would mark another low point for the Labor party — which led the country for the first three decades of its existence — after picking up five seats in the September election and six in April. The party ran alone in April and with Gesher in September.

As ballot boxes closed at 10 p.m., three television exit polls predicted significant gains for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, putting it within a hair’s breadth of forming a governing coalition, with centrist rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party falling far below its performance in the past years’ two previous elections.

According to the exit polls, the right-wing bloc — made up of Netanyahu’s Likud party, the religious right-wing Yamina, and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism — will get 60 seats in the 120-member parliament. The center-left-Arab bloc, minus Yisrael Beytenu, is forecast to win 52-54 seats.

Two exit polls predicted Labor-Gesher-Meretz would win six seats, while the third said it would pick up seven.

Peretz complained that Blue and White’s strategy of campaigning against Labor-Gesher-Meretz in the final days before the election had been a betrayal.

“We acted out of responsibility to ensure a large bloc that had a chance to form a government and set us on a new path. We acted responsibly. We signed a vote-sharing agreement with Blue and White, and backed [leader] Benny Gantz completely,” Peretz told party activists at the faction’s election-day headquarters on Monday night.

The heads of the Gesher, Labour and Meretz party, Orly Levy, Amir Peretz and Nitzan Horowitz at the party headquarters on elections night, in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“But at critical moments [in the campaign, Blue and White] launched an irresponsible campaign against us,” he added.

“We’re the peace camp, we’re the equality camp,” maintained Peretz, vowing to continue to fight for the alliance’s values.

Blue and White, which is projected to fall several seats short of Likud and not have enough support to muster even a minority government, had defended its startegic shift as a bid to ensure it remains the largest party in order for party head Benny Gantz to be tapped first to form a government.

Gesher party head Orly Levy-Abekasis sparked speculation about her political future when she tweeted in the wake of the exit poll results that she “hopes to wake up tomorrow to a new era of action.”

Levy removed the post a short time later, after journalists asked if it signaled an openness to splitting off and joining the right coalition, in order to give it a majority.

“Nothing has changed, we’re continuing on our path,” a statement from her spokesperson said.

An SMS poll apparently sent by Likud’s campaign asked party members — and journalists who noticed the message Monday night — whether Levy-Abekasis would be a good finance minister in the next government.

It was not immediately clear if the SMS poll reflected contact between Likud and Levy-Abekasis, the daughter of a former Likud foreign minister and herself a former Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker, to round out Netanyahu’s majority — or if the poll itself was an attempt to sow distrust on the left or to make other prospective defectors more likely to be amenable to the idea.

According to the exit polls, Likud was predicted to get between 36 and 37 seats, making it the biggest party and overtaking Blue and White, which was predicted to fall below Likud in all three exit polls, with 32-33 seats.

The vote has largely been seen as a referendum on Netanyahu, who will go on trial on corruption charges, including bribery, on March 17. If Netanyahu is tasked with forming the next coalition, the High Court of Justice will likely have to rule whether someone facing criminal charges can do that. The law currently only says that a prime minister must step down if convicted with all appeals exhausted — a process that will take at least three or four years — but a previous ruling by Israel’s top court has prevented ministers from serving if they are facing a criminal indictment, and it could deliver another such precedent.

Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, which has long urged a unity government with Likud and Blue and White and refused to commit to backing either side, was projected to get between six and eight seats, potentially leaving him in the kingmaker role if no opposition lawmakers defect.

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