Labor party rules out union with Meretz

Though party chief says he will take another look at the issue, prospects of a merger appear meager with hours left to finalize slates

Avi Gabbay, leader of the Labor party, seen during a press conference in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Avi Gabbay, leader of the Labor party, seen during a press conference in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Labor party announced Thursday afternoon that it would not form an alliance with the left-wing Meretz party for the upcoming Knesset elections, after saying earlier that it would consider the idea.

“After a thorough examination by the Labor Party today, we came to the conclusion that a merger between Labor and Meretz would be lesser than the sum of its parts. A combination of the two movements does not increase our strength — on the contrary, it weakens the bloc,” a statement from the party said.

Citing polling that showed both parties would pass the electoral threshold on their own, Labor said, “We will run separately and help one another in order to bring about a change of government.”

Labor leader Avi Gabbay had earlier told Meretz chief Tamar Zandberg he did not believe there was an electoral benefit to merging. Still, the Labour leader said he was willing to reexamine the issue and instructed the party’s number three, MK Itzik Shmuli, to hold talks with Meretz — but with only hours left till parties were to declare their finalized slates for the elections, Gabbay’s comments appeared to have been little more than lip service.

Labor sources earlier Thursday told The Times of Israel that Gabbay had “zero intention” of uniting with Meretz.

Senior party members had appeared to favor a union, contrary to Gabbay’s position. Both MK Shelly Yachimovich and MK Amir Peretz spoke out in support of joining forces with Meretz.

The Meretz outreach to Labor came after centrist parties Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid announced early Thursday morning they had agreed on a united slate, in what has been predicted by polls to become the largest faction in parliament after elections. Their combined party slate, called Blue and White, is expected to influence the political field by drawing votes from both Labor and Meretz.

MK Itzik Shmuli after results are announced in the Labor party primary in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2019 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Citing sources in Meretz, the Walla website reported that Zandberg had warned Gabbay that the parties’ polling status may yet change.

Polls have indicated that Labor could win up to 10 seats in the elections while Meretz has wavered around 4-5, with four being the minimum number of seats a party must win in the April 9 race to enter the legislature.

Following the Labor meeting, the partyr said in a statement, “At the end of a discussion in which the members of the faction participated, it was decided to examine all the possibilities in order to ensure a change of government in Israel while preserving the values of the Labor Party.”

Meretz party head Tamar Zandberg during an conference of the Movement for the Quality of Government, in Modiin, February 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Yachimovich had warned that “an automatic refusal [of a merger] will be an eternal disgrace to us if the new situation leads to the wiping out of Meretz and the collapse of Labor.”

Peretz said it was Labor’s “national responsibility and a responsibility to the camp of peace and social justice” to examine a merger. “There are many differences between us and Meretz, but that which is common is much greater and we can overcome the obstacles.”

Under the terms of the Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid agreement, announced just after dawn, the two party leaders will take turns being prime minister if they form the next government.

Israel Resilience leader Benny Gantz would be prime minister first for a period of two and a half years, and then Yesh Atid’s MK Yair Lapid would take over.

The announcement also said that popular former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi had agreed to join the united list in the fourth slot, after former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, in a move intended to further add to the joint list’s broad centrist appeal.

The Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid union has previously polled at 32-36 seats, ahead of the 30 seats predicted for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party. However, so far, Netanyahu is still expected to have the best chance of forming a minimum 61-seat coalition out of the 120 total in the Knesset.

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