Labor chief Amir Peretz on Saturday said his party was ending its alliance with the left-wing Meretz party, amid reports he and another lawmaker were set to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s next government.
In a tweet, Peretz said he informed Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz that he was ending the pact. He said Labor would file a request with the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee to formalize the split.
Peretz campaigned on not joining a coalition headed by Netanyahu, a stance shared by Meretz, and even shaved off his mustache so voters could “read his lips” that he was sincere in his vow.
But reports this week said Peretz and prominent Labor MK Itzik Shmuli were set to become ministers in the government being negotiated by Netanyahu’s Likud and Blue and White.
MK Merav Michaeli, the only other Labor lawmaker in the Knesset, reiterated she would not follow Peretz and Shmuli into a Netanyahu-led government.
“I will not be part of any move that will advance the entry of the Labor party into the corrupt Netanyahu government,” she said in a statement late Saturday.
Responding to Peretz, Horowitz said he was “burying” Labor.
“[Peretz] is embezzling the trust of hundreds of thousands of voters and crawling into the arms of the defendant from Balfour [Street] for a job in a right-wing government,” Horowitz wrote on Twitter, referring to the location of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.
The left-center Labor and progressive Meretz parties had reluctantly merged ahead of March elections in what was seen as a marraige of convienance, amid fears that one of the factions could fall below the threshold to enter the Knesset, weakening the anti-Netanyahu bloc.
Labor had previously joined forces with MK Orly Levy-Abekasis’s bread-and-butter Gesher party, which also became part of the alliance. Levy-Abekasis, who had previously been positioned on the right of the political spectrum, broke off from the parliamentary faction last month over disagreements on now-defunct plans for Blue and White to form a minority government with the support of the predominantly Arab Joint List party.
Horowitz called on Labor voters to join Meretz and said his party would also file a request to end the political union.
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg went even further in her criticism, calling Peretz an “opportunist and a con man.”
“Peretz deceived voters, deceived Meretz, and rode on the backs of the Israeli left toward a miserable post in a despicable government,” Zandberg said in a statement. “I urge Labor MK Merav Michaeli to join us.”
MK Yair Golan, who had also been part of the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, mockingly welcomed Peretz departure.
“Bye and I won’t see you later,” he tweeted.
According to Hebrew media reports, Peretz is expected to receive the Economy Ministry and Shmuli the Welfare Ministry in the next government.
However, the two have never confirmed their role in coalition talks.
If Labor did join the government, it would be the first time the party has been in a ruling coalition since 2011, when much of the faction bolted a Netanyahu-led government. The party and its forebears ruled Israel from its founding until the late 1970s, but in recent years have seen its fortunes drop precipitously, with many of its voters moving toward a series of centrist alternatives.
The Labor-Meretz split is the latest political alliance to be torn up amid ongoing coalition talks, after Blue and White chief Benny Gantz broke off late last month from the Yesh Atid and Telem factions that had come together to form the alliance, likely taking some MKs from the other factions with him.
Peretz and Shmuli would likely bolster Blue and White’s position as a center-left flank within the government aimed at curbing right-wing policy moves such as West Bank annexation and judicial reform.
Talks between Gantz and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government have moved haltingly since then, with disagreements reportedly remaining over the distribution of ministerial positions and policy positions, including support for annexation of parts of the West Bank.
The two held a meeting Friday, albeit at a distance, with Netanyahu, the caretaker prime minister, in preventative quarantine due to his contact with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Gantz currently holds the mandate to form a government and become prime minister, but the deal would reportedly allow Netanyahu to remain as the premier for 18 months before a rotation kicked in. Gantz, who had also adamantly refused to join a Netanyahu-led government, citing criminal indictments against him, has said the about-face was necessitated by the coronavirus health crisis.
The meeting was described as a “positive” one during which “understandings were reached,” according to a rare joint statement from their offices. The two party leaders instructed their negotiating teams “to try and bring about a coalition agreement between Blue and White and Likud as soon as possible,” it added.
The formation of a government would end over a year of political deadlock following three inconclusive elections.