Labor, Meretz close in on deal to run as joint slate in March elections

Negotiations come as polls show parties hovering at between 4 and 6 Knesset seats each, in danger of falling below 3.25% threshold

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

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

With just four days remaining until they must present their final slates for the March 2 election, Labor and Meretz, the two main parties on the political left, said Sunday that they were closing in on a deal to run as a joint slate.

The opening of official negotiations between the two parties comes as polls show both hovering at between four and six Knesset seats, in danger of falling below the 3.25% threshold of total votes required to enter the Knesset.

Labor chief Amir Peretz, set to meet later Sunday with Meretz and Democratic Camp head Nitzan Horowitz, announced his plans to unite with Meretz at a Labor party directorate meeting in the evening. “We have no choice but to unite,” he told the delegates.

The parties will also seek to join smaller factions to the new shared list, including MK Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher party, which ran together with Labor in the last election, and former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan, who was on the Democratic Camp list led by Meretz in the September race. Horowitz heads both the Meretz party and its recently renewed merger into the Democratic Camp.

Green party leader Stav Shaffir, who was placed second on the Democratic Camp’s list in September’s elections, was reportedly to be left out of the new union.

Democratic Camp party leaders MK Nitzan Horowitz, left, and Stav Shaffir at a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 25, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Labor MK Itzik Shmuli said on Sunday morning that he supported a merger, but only as a “technical bloc” that could potentially separate soon after the elections.

A source with direct knowledge of the negotiations told The Times of Israel that Peretz and Horovitz were set to meet “in order to discuss all options on the table.”

Peretz has in the past expressed hesitation regarding a Labor-Democratic Camp merger, worrying the move would scare away potential right-leaning voters from his socioeconomic-minded party.

Instead, he proposed last week a union of all three Zionist centrist and left-of-center parties — Blue and White, Labor and Democratic Camp —  in order to strengthen the bloc and ensure that the latter two parties cross the electoral threshold.

But Blue and White leader Benny Gantz rejected the prospect of an alliance, saying at a faction meeting that he “will not unite with any additional parties — not on the left and not on the right.”

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)

Ahead of the last election in September, Peretz 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.

Democratic Camp said last week that 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.”

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