Facing pressure on the left to unite with the Meretz party, Labor leader Amir Peretz on Saturday said he will decide within the next 10 days whether to seek an alliance with the left-wing faction ahead of the March elections.
“I will decided whether a union with Meretz will aid the center-left camp,” Peretz told attendants of a cultural-political event in the central town of Ramat Hasharon, adding that “sometimes the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.”
Peretz said the center-left’s goal in the upcoming election, Israel’s third in less than a year, must be to achieve a Knesset majority without requiring the support of the hard-right Yisrael Beytenu. Its leader, Avigdor Liberman, has stymied efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a narrow right-wing government, due to his opposition to the policies of ultra-Orthodox parties. Liberman has also refused to join a government with Arab majority parties he’s termed “a fifth column” in the Israeli parliament.
“If we don’t reach 61, we’ll find ourselves in a fourth election,” Peretz said.
The center-left party picked up just six seats in the last election, while Meretz, under the banner of the Democratic Camp, won five seats in the 120-strong Knesset. In recent polls both Labor and Meretz have been hovering at around four seats — the minimum required to enter the legislature.
Peretz, however, has resisted calls to unite with Meretz in order to ensure both parties survive the next national poll.
The Morocco-born Peretz has reportedly leaned against a merger with the dovish and Ashkenazi-identified Democratic Camp, preferring to position his party as the standard-bearer of a more Mizrahi-identified economic left. He already rejected such a union during the September 17 race, calling off talks between the parties and opting instead to join forces with Orly Levy-Abekasis’s center-right Gesher. Levy-Abekasis is a former lawmaker with Yisrael Beytenu and daughter of a prominent Morocco-born former Likud cabinet minister.
Kan TV news on Friday reported that the Blue and White party may offer Levy-Abekasis a top place on its own slate in return for a left-wing alliance, as it, too, pressures Peretz to agree to such a union. Blue and White denied the report.
Meanwhile, speaking at an event in Hadera Saturday, Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar said Netanyahu’s victory in Likud’s leadership primary on Thursday would end up benefiting his party.
“Netanyahu’s win in Likud has rended the period of ambiguity in Israeli politics and will bring us many voters from Likud,” he asserted, claiming many would be put off by Netanyahu’s efforts to bring the far-right Otzma Yehudit party into the Knesset in order to help him achieve a 61-seat majority.
“I will not breathe the same air as [Otzma Yehudit’s] Itamar Ben Gvir,” he said.
Likud MK Yoav Kisch, who ran Netanyahu challenger Gideon Sa’ar’s primary campaign, said in Ramat Hasharon that he was now wholly focused on helping the prime minister win the next election.
“Discourse about the primaries is yesterday’s discourse,” he said. “I will give my full strength to Likud winning the next election and forming a right-wing government.”
Asked about Sa’ar’s assertion during the campaign, as well as his own, that Netanyahu would be unable to form a coalition even after a third election, Kisch said he hoped he’d be proven wrong. “I hope we can form a government of 61.”
The two rounds of elections in April and September failed to produce an elected government — a first in Israeli political history. The unprecedented political gridlock, in which neither Likud’s Netanyahu nor Blue and White’s Benny Gantz has proved able to cobble together a ruling coalition, drove the Knesset to vote earlier this month on a third election within 11 months, set for March 2, 2020.