Labor approves union with Gesher, definitively rules out any further mergers
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Labor approves union with Gesher, definitively rules out any further mergers

Deal between parties dashes hopes for formation of wider left-wing slate to oppose Netanyahu; Peretz claims such an alliance would have been the easy, but less worthwhile, path

Gesher party chair Orly Levy-Abekasis (L) and Labor head Amir Peretz announce their joint run in the September election, in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Gesher party chair Orly Levy-Abekasis (L) and Labor head Amir Peretz announce their joint run in the September election, in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Labor’s central committee approved the party’s merger with Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher on Wednesday, days after the two factions announced that they would join together.

It also approved a clause which stipulated no further mergers would take place, burying any hopes that Labor would join with the newly formed Democratic Camp — in itself a product of a union of Meretz, Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and breakaway Labor MK Stav Shaffir.

Though she focuses on social issues, Levy-Abekasis, the daughter of former Likud foreign minister David Levy, has remained largely identified with the right, and the merger was seen as a move by Labor to push for more support from the political center rather than from Meretz, which is further to the left.

Barak on Tuesday had called for a broad union of all major parties in the center and left ahead of the upcoming September 17 elections. His plea came a day after three nationalist right-wing parties announced a merger deal, and four Arab parties finalized their run on a joint slate. In a video posted to his Twitter account, Barak, a former prime minister and military chief, warned that while “history is within reach, so is missing [the opportunity].”

Former prime minister Ehud Barak attends a campaign event in Savyon for his Israel Democratic Party on July 24, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

But Peretz dismissed the appeal.

“I could have stayed in my comfort zone, joining Meretz and Ehud Barak, and heading a left-wing bloc,” Peretz told supporters. “But we see that the Barak-Meretz merger [doesn’t] add a single vote to our camp, so that means giving up from the outset. We could have stood together, puffing our chests, but we would have been handing Netanyahu the leadership without a struggle.

“I don’t intend to join forces with Barak and Meretz — full stop,” he added.

Following the central committee’s approval of the merger with Gesher, Labor chief Amir Peretz said that the new union was “not just a merger” but a “journey that will transform the party from a party to a political home.”

“I didn’t get a party with 24 seats, I didn’t get a party with a budget surplus, but I got a party with dedicated field operatives, with supporters everywhere in the country,” he said.

Blue and White party leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz ahead of a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Peretz criticized the centrist Blue and White party — a union between Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem — as “one big bluff,” saying it was a wagon being pulled by multiple horses in different directions.

While praising Gantz as “a great man,” Peretz accused Lapid of pushing for confrontation with the ultra-Orthodox and for capitalist economic policies.

Peretz also complained about his treatment by the press. “We went through an unimaginable two weeks and saw how faithless people tried to incite against us, how the tactical union of Barak and Meretz is being sheltered by the media.”

After the announcement of the merger last week, Levy-Abekasis, who originally entered politics as part of Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, said that she would not sit in a government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if he is indicted. She told Channel 13 that she did not rule out partnering with Likud, but said that Netanyahu had led the party astray, away from its social principles, and that he should resign if indicted. She rejected the idea of voting for bills that would grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution.

According to a Channel 12 poll released on Tuesday, if elections were held today, Labor-Gesher would receive five seats in the Knesset.

Peretz leads the new united party’s list, followed by Levy-Abekasis, Itzik Shmuli, Merav Michaeli and Omer Barlev.

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