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Meretz leader, Labor MKs in talks to form new left-wing list

It could mean salvation for both parties, which are making poor showings in polls • Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg may step down to let a Labor MK or an outside candidate head joint list • Talks to kick into high gear after the Meretz Party primaries.

Israeli Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Oct. 1, 2017. Credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Israeli Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Oct. 1, 2017. Credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

Labor MKs and the leaders of the far-left Meretz Party have been holding intense talks for several days now about establishing a new joint list ahead of the April 9 election—a list that would leave Labor chairman Avi Gabbay out in the cold, Israel Hayom has learned.

Many Labor members are expected to back a merger with Meretz on a new, joint list out of concern that given Labor’s miserable performance in recent polls, it might not make it into the Knesset if it sticks to the current list.

Officials said that the name of a new left-wing party would not include either “Labor” or “Meretz,” in an effort to underscore that the move is a political innovation. The main message of a joint party will be “the Zionist Left,” which organizers hope will make clear to voters that the party is left-wing, but not radical, and will not include anti-Zionist figures.

Party actors involved in the merger talks said that recent polls conducted by both Labor and Meretz indicated that a joint list could pull Meretz over the minimum electoral threshold (3.25 percent, or four seats) and give more Labor MKs “realistic” places on the list, meaning a chance at actually serving in the next Knesset.

Meanwhile, representatives of both parties were scheduled to meet in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening to look into the possibility of a joint list. The meeting was initiated by former Meretz Knesset member Nitzan Horowitz.

Procedural regulations make it impossible to convene the Knesset House Committee to divide the Labor Party, which means that any MKs seeking to join the new party—if it is established—will have to resign. This means that Meretz would not be able to benefit from the party funding that the MKs would have brought with them if they had remained part of the Labor Party and will have to shoulder all the campaign costs.

Meretz Party chairwoman Tamar Zandberg. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The party members behind the merger initiative have not ruled out a possible reserved place on a joint list for Gabbay if he decides to join forces rather than battle the new party.

However, Gabbay would not be given the top spot on the list. It appears that Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg will be willing to step aside to allow one of the Labor MKs—or an outside candidate—to lead the new list.

The Left has recently seen calls for Meretz and Labor to merge, given both parties’ shaky standing in the polls. Last week, former Labor MK Yael Dayan said that if the parties did not join forces in the general election, “it would be suicide for both of them.”

Yossi Beilin, who served as a senior member in both Meretz and Labor, wrote in Israel Hayom last week that “Labor now needs a new merger, and the most natural one is with its ‘neighbor’: Meretz.”

He continued: “I assess that Gabbay would be concerned about the left-wing image, whereas Zandberg could be worried about the message getting lost as a result of joining forces with a party that, for many years now, has been in the Center. But this is an option that could refresh both parties and bring people out to vote.”

While no final decisions about a joint list have been made, Labor and Meretz have reportedly decided to kick the negotiations into high gear after both parties’ primaries are over. Labor held its primaries on Monday while Meretz members are slated to vote for their party’s Knesset list on Thursday.

How did the Labor primaries shake out? The top spots on the list, after Gabbay, went to Itzik Shmuli, Stav Shaffir, Shelly Yachimovich and Amir Peretz.

Gabbay’s party rival MK Eitan Cabel was voted into the 11th spot on the list, which in Labor’s current state in the polls would leave him out of the Knesset. Factoring in the spots reserved for personal picks by Gabbay and Labor Party Secretary General Eran Hermoni, Cabel drops to the 15th place.

After the primary results were announced, Gabbay said, “What a fantastic team. I’m proud of you. We have a great team. This is our night. I’m especially proud to be chairman of the Labor Party. All 60,000 Labor members—you’ve thrilled us.”

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