Labor-Gesher proposes union of center-left with Blue and White, Democratic Camp

Amir Peretz, who resisted joining forces with Democratic Camp in the past, calls proposal a test of Benny Gantz’s commitment to deposing Netanyahu

L to R: Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Labor chief Amir Peretz and Gesher head Orly Levy-Abekasis in a meeting, November 14, 2019 (Facebook photo)
L to R: Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Labor chief Amir Peretz and Gesher head Orly Levy-Abekasis in a meeting, November 14, 2019 (Facebook photo)

Former defense minister Amir Peretz, the head of the Labor-Gesher party, proposed a political union Tuesday between centrist Blue and White, his center-left faction and left-wing Meretz.

“We have the opportunity to bring about a revolution in Israel,” he told Channel 12’s Yonit Levy in an interview Tuesday.

Peretz’s proposal may be geared toward saving his storied party from political oblivion, as recent polls have shown it skirting the 3.25% vote threshold required to enter parliament.

He depicted the idea as a way to offer a real chance to despairing center-left voters of unseating longtime premier Benjamin Netanyahu in the March elections.

“People tell me, nothing is going to change. People are despairing. What I’m proposing is to establish a unified bloc of Blue and White, Labor-Gesher and Meretz.”

Head of Blue and White party Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Ramat Gan, January 1, 2020. (Flash90)

By doing so, “we would initiate a move the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the State of Israel. A joint run, one ballot slip, one slip for one bloc, to replace Netanyahu and his government and its policies. It’s not enough just to replace Netanyahu. You have to establish a government that can bring a new agenda for Israel.”

The move caught the political system by surprise, since Peretz famously resisted such unions in the past, including in the last election in September when he defied intense pressure for an alliance with Meretz, 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 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.

The move may also be an attempt at doing just that — peeling voters away from Blue and White’s left-leaning edge.

Co-chairmen of the Labor-Gesher party, Amir Peretz and Orly Levy-Avekasis talk to potential voters in an attempt to convince them to vote for the “Labor-Gesher party” at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, September 15, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Peretz described his proposal as a test for Blue and White’s Benny 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 annexation?”

Blue and White is almost certain to decline the suggestion. The party is reportedly planning to lean rightward in the coming campaign ahead of the March 2 election, with party leaders reportedly sensing an opportunity to win over centrist Likud voters amid dismay over Likud leader Netanyahu’s corruption indictments.

Peretz’s move could be a similar bid, challenging Gantz’s commitment to a Netanyahu-free government after the vote, and thus winning over some of Blue and White’s left-leaning electorate.

Labor chairman Amir Peretz (L) shakes hands with Meretz (and later Democratic Camp) chairman Nitzan Horowitz on July 17, 2019. (Courtesy)

Shortly after Peretz made the suggestion, Blue and White said Gantz would meet both Peretz and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, who leads an alliance of progressive politicians running as the Democratic Camp, on Wednesday. But the meetings were long-scheduled, and would take place separately, Gantz’s spokespeople said.

There was no immediate word on what the leaders were expected to discuss, though recent media reports have said Gantz is working to convince Peretz and Horowitz to unite their left-wing factions in order to ensure neither falls below the electoral threshold.

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 and 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.”

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