Left-Wing Israeli Parties Unite ahead of March Election
Israel's main left-parties have announced they will run on a single ticket in the upcoming March 2 election.
Labor, which dominated Israeli politics for decades and spearheaded peace efforts with the Palestinians, will join with the veteran party Meretz after seeing their combined seats in the 120-seat Knesset diminish from 29 to 11 after two inconclusive elections last year.
Many of their voters have defected to the upstart centrist party Blue and White, led by former general Benny Gantz which is the main challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud.
Both Labor and Meretz had been polling dangerously close to the electoral threshold and were under intense pressure to unite into a single bloc so as not to lose valuable votes.
Should one of them had failed to enter parliament, it would have all but guaranteed re-election for Netanyahu and his nationalist bloc.
Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz will lead the joint list, followed by Orly Levy-Abekasis and then Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz.
Levy-Abekasis, who heads the more centrist Gesher faction, said on Monday that it was merely a “technical union” dictated by reality to save precious votes. The union helps bolster Gantz's chances of unseating Netanyahu.
The March election will be the third in a space of a year, after the previous two rounds produced inconclusive results.
Various right-wing parties are also working to unite before Wednesday's deadline for submitting the final lists of candidates for parliament.
The change in the political landscape coincides with a squabble among lawmakers over an immunity request submitted by Netanyahu, who is under indictment in three criminal cases.
Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving premier, has asked parliament to protect him from prosecution on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
But without a majority of votes in parliament to get it done, he is now pushing to delay debate over his immunity request until after the election -- ensuring his trial would not begin until after Israelis go to the polls and possibly grant him a new mandate.
Gantz's Blue and White is working to hold the debate as soon as possible.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media and left to oust a popular right-wing leader.