The Labor and Gesher parties, which ran on a joint slate in the September election, announced they would stick together for the March elections.
In announcing the decision Sunday, Labor leader Amir Peretz suggested no further mergers were expected among left-wing parties, and hinted Labor-Gesher would not automatically back only a secularist coalition, but was open to joining a government with religious parties.
“We’re the only party that cares about real people,” Peretz declared, asserting that “our alliance expanded the [left-wing] bloc.”
He added: “We are committed to a clean campaign, without any disqualifications or boycotts of other groups and communities. No other alliances with other parties are currently under consideration.”
Gesher chair Orly Levy-Abekasis vowed the joint faction would “put social issues at the top of the agenda once again. We’re going to talk about the collapsing healthcare system, about free high-quality education from age zero, about our promise that a young couple in Israel will be able to buy an apartment by [paying for it through rental fees], and about how we will raise the minimum wage,” she said.
Earlier this month, Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Camp reportedly renewed talks on merging their two left-wing lists if a new election was called.
The move came after both found themselves hovering just above the 3.25 percent electoral vote threshold in some recent polls.
The Morocco-born Peretz, however, 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 ahead of the September 17 race, calling off talks between the parties and opting instead to join forces with Gesher, headed by Levy-Abekasis, a former lawmaker with the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party and daughter of a prominent Morocco-born former Likud cabinet minister.
But the move failed to deliver the hoped-for boost at the ballot box, with Labor-Gesher receiving the same six seats in September that Labor alone had won in April.
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 Benjamin Netanyahu nor Blue and White’s Benny Gantz has proved able to cobble together a ruling coalition, drove the Knesset to vote last week on a third election within 11 months, set for March 2.
It has also propelled the first serious challenge to Netanyahu’s leadership of Likud since he took over as leader from Ariel Sharon in late 2005, with popular lawmaker Gideon Sa’ar announcing last month he planned to challenge the prime minister in a primary race set for December 26.
Netanyahu’s own political and personal future are in doubt after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit last month announced criminal charges — including bribery, fraud and breach of trust — against the premier in three corruption probes.