Labor will not join a coalition led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, party leader Shelly Yacimovich announced on Thursday, positioning herself as the main alternative to the prime minister.
"We will either form the next government or sit in the opposition – those are the two options," Yacimovich stated at a press conference at the party's campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv. "
The Labor leader's statements mark a new strategy in the party, to maintain its position as the largest party in the Center-Left bloc and take votes from other parties in the bloc. Party insiders hope that Labor refusing to join a Netanyahu-led coalition and sharpening the distinction between the electoral blocs will make Yacimovich a stronger alternative to the prime minister.
Labor started the election season by claiming to be centrist and not left-wing, hoping to win over right-wing voters with a message emphasizing socioeconomic reform. The strategy was unsuccessful, as polls have not shown any Knesset seats moving from the Right bloc to the Left.
"Recently, things happened that made Netanyahu's plans clear," Yacimovich said. "The weaker the Likud gets, the bigger the wild and strange contest between [Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali] Bennett and Likud Beytenu, between the [Likud Beytenu candidate Moshe] Feiglins and the [Bayit Yehudi candidate] Orit Strucks."
Yacimovich also pointed out Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman's indictment and said Netanyahu is "embracing a corrupt man on every possible stage."
"The prime minister plans to pass a cruel budget that we have never seen in Israel, which will bring a social hell and economic chaos," she added.
Earlier this week, Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On called for Center-Left party leaders to commit that they would not join Netanyahu's government.
However, unlike Labor, the other major parties in the bloc – Yesh Atid and The Tzipi Livni Party – did not heed Meretz's call.
Livni, who suffered politically for not forming a coalition despite heading the Knesset's largest party after the 2009 election, chided Yacimovich for saying she will not join the coalition, asking sarcastically: "How will you promote all of your fantastic plans from the opposition?"
"I don't believe that we need to give up, like some of my colleagues are doing," Livni said at a Chamber of Commerce Finance Conference in Tel Aviv. "I don't think we need to announce today that we're going to the opposition, that we're entering the government or that there is not bloc. We need to fight together and create a front to face the extremists and try to prevent them from forming a government."
Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party accused Yacimovich of acting under pressure and "erasing the chance to form a Zionist, not messianic government that will not continue to pay billions to yeshivas and distant settlements."
Yesh Atid added that they will not be "a decoration in a right-wing, haredi, messianic government" or join a coalition that is subject to pressure from interest groups.
"The public must choose who they prefer, Shas and the extreme right or Yesh Atid, which will fight for the middle class in order to bring equality in the burden of national service and lower the cost of living," Lapid's party stated.
Shas co-leader Aryeh Deri said now that it is clear Labor won't be in the next government, Shas will be the only social party with an influence.
"Without a strong Shas, we will go back to the 2003 Likud-Lapid government that harmed the weakest sectors in society," Deri remarked. "A strong Shas will be the only representative of the weak and young couples and will stop Likud Beytenu's cruel policies."
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz accused Yacimovich of arrogance.
"This is a person who has never managed anything. She was never a minister or even the head of the Knesset Finance Committee, and now she says 'I'll only be prime minister?'" he said at the Chamber of Commerce conference.
In response to the wave of criticism of his party, MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) said "it's clear to all that Labor and Shelly Yacimovich's daring move renewed the election campaign."
"It's too bad that The Tzipi Livni Party, Yesh Atid and other parties gave up on their ambition to win the election and are busy talking about future ministries and secret and public negotiations with Netanyahu," he added. "There's no future in being Netanyahu's bus when Feiglin is on the brakes and Orit Struck on the turn signal."
Cabel explained that Labor hopes to form a different government, and will not give in to defeatism, calling on Lapid and Livni to back Yacimovich's move and form a united front against Netanyahu and his "extremist partners."
"That is the only way we can form a government that will rehabilitate the middle class, shrink social gaps, renew the diplomatic process and strengthen the rule of law," he said.