Newly elected Labor leader aiming for 15 seats, including 4 from center-right

Amir Peretz says he has spoken with chiefs of several parties, but not Avidgor Liberman or Naftali Bennett, because he has ‘no common ground’ with them

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

MK Amir Peretz, newly elected leader of the Labor party speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, July 3, 2019. (Flash90)
MK Amir Peretz, newly elected leader of the Labor party speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, July 3, 2019. (Flash90)

The newly elected leader of the flagging Labor party said Wednesday he hopes to almost triple the number of Knesset seats the party has, in part by winning over voters from the center-right.

A day after winning the job, Amir Peretz said he was already been in contact with the leaders of several other parties he sees as potential campaign allies.

Peretz, who previously led Labor from 2005-2007, told Army Radio that he is aiming to win 15 seats in the September 17 elections, up from the six seats the party won in April’s vote, its worst ever result in a national election.

Peretz soundly trounced his rivals Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir in the Labor leadership primary Tuesday, but will face an uphill battle to bring his faction back to the position it once held as a leading Israeli political party.

The party in recent years has seen its fortunes sink amid infighting, near-constant leadership changes and a slew of other parties challenging its ground on the center-left.

Peretz said he had been in touch with a number of politicians about possible alliances ahead of, and after, September’s repeat snap poll, including Blue and White party leader MK Benny Gantz; new leader of the Meretz party MK Nitzan Horowitz; leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties MK Aryeh Deri and deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, respectively; and veteran Arab-Israeli lawmaker MK Ahmed Tibi of the Ta’al party.

Compilation: Ehud Barak, left, and Blue White leader Benny Gantz (Flash90)

Peretz said he also spoke to former lawmakers Tzipi Livni, leader of the Hatnua party who retired from politics ahead of the April election, and Orly Levy-Abekasis, leader of the Gesher party, who did not make it into the Knesset after the vote, as well as former prime minister and Labor party leader Ehud Barak, who last month announced he was forming a new party to run in the coming elections.

Peretz, who has been a Knesset member since 1988 and in the past served as defense minister, said he planned more talks next week and has tasked former party MK Omer Bar Lev with looking at ways to expand the center-left bloc to build an “ideological alternative” to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule.

MK Omer Bar Lev at a protest in Tel Aviv, August 18, 2018. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

He said he had asked Bar Lev to check “In what way the bloc can be widened, what is the best way, the best combinations, so that we will succeed in building an electoral and ideological alternative.”

One strategy, Peretz explained, would be to try to win over voters who were disappointed with Gesher’s poor result in April and with the center-right Kulanu party, which won just four seats and has since merged into Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Peretz claimed he is also capable of securing at least two Knesset seats by gaining support from Arab and Druze voters.

However, Peretz ruled out cooperating with Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman or Naftali Bennett, the former education minister whose New Right party fell just short of entering the Knesset and who has said he intends to run again in the coming vote.

“I don’t think that I can find common ground with them,” he said of Liberman and Bennett.

Regarding Liberman, though Peretz conceded that they have similar views on the separation of religion and state, their differences on diplomacy and resolving the conflict with the Palestinians were too great to bridge.

“I think there is still a chasm between us on matters of diplomacy on very fundamental questions.”

At a press conference on Wednesday morning after he was confirmed as winning the Labor primary, Peretz declared, “Our goal is clear: to return to the agenda the social, economic and political issues of the Labor Party.”

Gantz, Horowitz, and Barak all congratulated Peretz on his victory, with the latter two also indicating their willingness to discuss cooperating with Labor in the election campaign.

After Netanyahu was not able to cobble together a ruling majority following the April elections, he dissolved parliament and called new elections for September.

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