The historic Israeli Labour party looked to have finally disintegrated this week after its two leaders left to join Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, leaving the rest of the party “shocked”.
Amir Peretz and his number two Itzik Shmuli said they would merge with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party in return for ministerial positions, but others such as Labour’s third Knesset member Merav Michaeli were adamantly opposed.
Peretz and Shmuli are expecting to receive socio-economic portfolios in the new government, which will be led by Netanyahu for the first 18 months, before a promise to rotate prime ministerial powers to Gantz.
But Michaeli was left “shocked” at the two leaders’ desertion, saying: “You don’t throw away the party of David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.”
The party grew out of Ben-Gurion’s Mapai, or Workers Party, and was the dominant force in Israeli politics from the state’s foundation in the 1940s to Likud’s first victory in the 1970s.
As the Israeli population has veered further to the right in recent years, Labour’s popularity has waned, to the point that it now needs to merge with other left-wing in order to meet the 3.25 percent parliamentary threshold.
Five years ago Israel’s left-wing and centre-left parties scooped 29 of the 120 seats but in last month’s election they won only seven, despite Labour running alongside both Meretz and Gesher, in an alliance that dissolved quickly after the ballot.
First Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abekasis, whose father was a Likud lawmaker, broke away after refusing to enter a minority government with Arab parliamentarians, then Labor and Meretz parted ways this weekend, as Peretz and Shmuli made their plans clear. The split leaves Labour and Meretz with three lawmakers each.
The Labour rupture comes as Israeli politicians finally look likely to agree a unity government comprising Netanyahu’s Likud, the two strictly Orthodox parties, most of Gantz’s Blue and White, and the two Labour politicians.
Yair Lapid has withdrawn his Yesh Atid faction, so will sit in opposition together with the Joint List of Arab politicians, while the religious-nationalist Yamina bloc of the current Defence Minister Naftali Bennett may also be side-lined.