With deadline looming, Labor, Meretz leaders to meet for last-ditch merger talks

With deadline looming, Labor, Meretz leaders to meet for last-ditch merger talks

Sources say that while union seems unlikely, two have agreed to continue dialog ‘in order to discuss all options on the table’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

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, leaders of the Labor and Meretz parties were set to meet Sunday for last-ditch talks on the possibility of merging their lists and running together as joint faction, according to sources in both parties.

While a union is seen as unlikely, Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz and Meretz and Democratic Camp chair Nitzan Horovitz will meet “in order to discuss all options on the table,” a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations told The Times of Israel.

The two, who first met to discuss the potential merger last week, are set to announce a decision by Monday, Haaretz reported.

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.

Horowitz heads both the left-wing Meretz party and its recently renewed merger into the Democratic Camp, which has already closed the first four spots on its election roster.

Democratic Choice chairman Yair Golan (L) and Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz sign an agreement to run together as the Democratic Camp on January 7, 2019. (Courtesy)

Peretz, whose Labor party is merged with MK Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher, has 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.

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

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.

But while Labor gained six seats and the Democratic Camp five, Peretz is now looking to save his party from potential political oblivion, as recent polls have shown it skirting the 3.25% threshold.

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)

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.”

At the same time as continuing talks with Labor, Meretz has also been in negotiations with MK Stav Shaffir over the possibility of her joining the Democratic Camp.

Meretz is reportedly prepared to offer Shaffir the fifth spot on the combined slate, but party officials don’t expect her to take up the proposal.

MK Stav Shaffir of the Democratic Camp party holds a press conference, September 15, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Shaffir, who joined her Green Party with Meretz and the Israel Democratic Party ahead of the previous elections to form the left-wing Democratic Camp alliance, has threatened to go it alone this time around due to an ongoing spat with Horowitz.

A senior Meretz source told Ynet on Thursday that the fifth slot is the party’s “final offer” to Shaffir.

A statement on behalf of Shaffir said in response that, “Someone who wants unity comes and holds face-to-face negotiations with his partners, and doesn’t go and ask via media and using pseudonyms.”

Shaffir has recently said she would only settle for third place on the Democratic Camp slate.

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