The parties on the Center- Left failed to unite by Thursday night’s deadline, leaving no single party in a position to seriously challenge Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu.
The Likud expressed satisfaction with the divide on the Left, saying that “the games of personal ego on the Left will result in an easy Likud victory.”
Labor, Yesh Atid, Kadima and The Tzipi Livni Party will each run separately and compete for votes on the Center- Left. Polls on Thursday continued to find that the four parties running separately would win fewer votes than Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman’s joint list.
“Presenting an alternative to Netanyahu by combining parties into one list was the right thing to do,” Livni said. “I offered real partnership to [Labor chairwoman] Shelly [Yacimovich], but she turned me down.”
The closest thing to unity on Thursday came when Labor MK Amir Peretz defected to Livni’s party, despite repeatedly promising he would remain in Labor. Livni said Peretz had proved by switching parties that he knew how to take unpopular steps for what he believed was right, as he had when as defense minister, he had insisted on developing the Iron Dome missile defense system.
Peretz vowed to bring The Tzipi Livni Party votes from Likud members in the periphery.
He wished his former Labor colleagues well, but made clear that his main reason for leaving was his ongoing dispute with Yacimovich.
“She rejected my outstretched hand for her own personal reasons,” he said.
“This was the first time I felt baseless hatred from my political home, and it hurt. Shelly said I was sabotaging our party’s efforts to replace Netanyahu. She said that for me she would have zero tolerance, a term used for terrorists and perpetrators of violence against women. It that’s what she thinks of me, I won’t bother her anymore.”
Labor immediately released a response expressing relief at Peretz’s departure and promising that his leaving would only strengthen the party. MK Isaac Herzog, who beat Peretz for the second slot in Labor last week, called Peretz’s move a new record in political opportunism.
Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid said The Tzipi Livni Party was shaping up as an “asylum for political losers” that wouldn’t last a single day following the election.
A Yesh Atid spokeswoman said the only thing Livni’s party’s members had in common was political motivation.
Peretz handed his letter of resignation from the parliament to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin on Thursday afternoon.
He will be replaced by former Labor MK Yoram Marciano, who was next on the party’s list for the 18th Knesset, but did not run in last month’s primary.
Rivlin called for a new code of political behavior to stop the wave of party-jumping.
“We need to ask ourselves what is happening in our political culture,” Rivlin told Peretz.
“I come from a very ideological home, and I see a new culture that has brought many Israelis to raise an eyebrow. I think the next Knesset will have to answer the democratic, constitutional question of whether a candidate in one party’s primary can immediately join a different party.”
The final addition to Livni’s party was former OC Manpower Directorate Maj.-Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern, 56, who served in the paratroopers and was also commander of the Officers School and Chief Education Officer.
A leading member of the national-religious camp, Stern said that despite statements from Livni’s No. 2, Labor Party chairman and former OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amram Mitzna, that their party was leftist, he thought labels no longer mattered.
The honorary final slot on Livni’s list went to industrialist Stef Wertheimer.
Her party tried to attract several well-known figures who decided in the end to sit the race out, including former Teva Pharmaceutical Industries chairman Shlomo Yanai, former minister of social and Diaspora affairs Rabbi Michael Melchior, Netanyahu’s former spokesman Yoaz Hendel, and the head of the committee that responded to the 2011 summer protests, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Independence Party decided not to run, because its members saw they did not have a chance of getting elected.
Independence MK Einat Wilf said the party had decided not to waste taxpayer money on a campaign and would return its party funds to the Treasury.
The party’s departure means an end to the political career of Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon, who has been an MK since 1999, Agriculture Minister Orit Noked, and MKs Wilf and Shakib Shanan. Wilf is expected to have a bright future as a diplomat.
Former Jewish Agency chairman Ze’ev Bielski became the latest Kadima MK to quit politics on Thursday when he announced that he would not be running in the January 22 election.
Bielski joined MKs Dalia Itzik, Marina Solodkin, Ronnie Bar- On and Ya’acov Edri, who quit on Wednesday. But unlike Solodkin, who quit protesting her low placement – ninth on the Kadima list – Bielski chose not to run despite being given the fourth slot.
“They put me in a terrific place on the list,” Bielski said. “I could have returned to the Knesset, but I couldn’t make the real contribution I wanted to make in a small party, so I decided to give others a chance.
I got to the end of the path. As a party, we made a lot of mistakes that put us in the terrible place we are now, so I decided to take a break and decide later how to contribute. I didn’t zigzag or jump ship. In life, you just need to know when to come and go.”
Former Kadima MK Yulia Shamolov-Berkovich found a new political home. She will head the Calcala Party, taking a job turned down by reality stars, rappers, supermodels and children’s entertainer Yuval Hamebulbal (Yuval the Confused).
Thirty-four parties submitted their candidacies by the deadline.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.