Benny Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White party, met with Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz on Wednesday to discuss political alliances ahead of the March 2 election.
Gantz was urging Peretz to unite his center-left party with the left-wing Democratic Camp in order to ensure that neither party falls below the 3.25 percent electoral threshold for getting into parliament.
Peretz, meanwhile, tried to sell a more ambitious plan: a union across the spectrum of the center and left that puts Labor-Gesher, Democratic Camp and Blue and White on a single ballot slip on election day.
“I presented to Gantz a framework for forming a government that doesn’t just settle for replacing [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, but replaces his policies too. The ball is now in Blue and White’s court,” Peretz said after the Wednesday morning meeting.
Gantz rejected the proposal, saying at a Blue and White faction meeting later in the day that his party “will not unite with any additional parties — not on the left and not on the right.”
Peretz, a former defense minister, first proposed the union with Blue and White in an interview on Channel 12 on Tuesday night.
“We have the opportunity to bring about a revolution in Israel,” he told anchor Yonit Levy.
Peretz’s proposal may be geared toward saving his party from political oblivion, as recent polls have shown it skirting the 3.25% threshold.
But he presented the idea as a way to offer despairing center-left voters a real chance of ending the political gridlock that has seen three elections scheduled in 11 months — and of finally unseating longtime premier Netanyahu in the March race.
“People tell me, nothing is going to change. People are despairing,” he said.
The suggestion caught the political system by surprise, since Peretz has famously resisted such unions in the past, including ahead of the last election in September when he defied intense pressure for an alliance with Democratic Camp, arguing a joint faction would deliver fewer total votes for the left than a run as two separate parties.
“I think that if everyone joins, and there’s no issue of a war between us, we won’t spend money on trying to take seats from Blue and White, Meretz [a faction within Democratic Camp] won’t invest energy in trying to take seats from us, but instead, everyone who thinks that Benjamin Netanyahu has to be replaced will stand as one, will work night and day, will bring their family members to vote,” he said.
Peretz described his proposal on Tuesday as a test for Blue and White’s Gantz, and hinted that Gantz’s balking at such a union meant he preferred a government that still included Netanyahu.
“I’m proposing preventing a government that will be the same thing [as a Netanyahu government]. Benny Gantz has to decide — does he want to be with us in a government of change and hope, or does he want to join a government of social neglect and [West Bank] annexation?”
On Wednesday, he doubled down on the challenge, saying, “The ball is now in Blue and White’s court.”
Rather than join a party to its left, Blue and White is reportedly planning to lean rightward in the coming campaign, with party leaders sensing an opportunity to win over centrist Likud voters dismayed by Netanyahu’s corruption indictments.
Gantz also met Wednesday with Democratic Camp leader Nitzan Horowitz.
Democratic Camp said Tuesday it supported Peretz’s idea of a broad center-left union, but said that the first step should be an alliance of Labor-Gesher with Democratic Camp.
“We will support any union on the center-left,” Horowitz said in a statement. “But the most strategic, vital, immediate and necessary union is between Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Camp to forge a strong Israeli left! That’s the hope voters are looking for, that’s the political and moral act needed at this time, that’s the kind of move that could rid us of Netanyahu.”