Polls show Democratic Union Party to net 8-12 seats

Barak wooing Livni, vows more mergers after bond with Meretz, Shaffir.

Israel Democratic Party's Ehud Barak, MK Stav Shaffir and Meretz's Nitzan Horowitz of the Democratic Camp (photo credit: SPOKESPERSON FOR THE DEMOCRATIC CAMP)
Israel Democratic Party's Ehud Barak, MK Stav Shaffir and Meretz's Nitzan Horowitz of the Democratic Camp
Former prime minister Ehud Barak, Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz and Labor rebel MK Stav Shaffir merged early on Thursday morning and established the Democratic Union Party, as the clock ticked down to next week’s deadline to submit final Knesset lists.
The new party is predicted to win between 8 and 12 seats, according to a number of polls taken by media outlets.
While the merger did not provide the center-left with a clear path to victory, in all of the polls the Left bloc retained the ability to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a narrow right-wing government. The Left bloc, including the Joint Arab List, was predicted to win 54 seats by a Maariv poll, and 53 in the three polls taken for the television news broadcasts.
Sources in the new party noted that before the merger, Barak’s party not expected to cross the electoral threshold to get into the Knesset, and Meretz was expected to win only four seats, making eight to 12 mandates a big accomplishment.
At a Tel Aviv news conference with Shaffir and Horowitz, Barak promised that more mergers were on the way. Tzipi Livni, former co-head of the Zionist Union, is being aggressively pursued by Barak. Livni declined to comment on Thursday about reports that she has been offered the top slot on the list.
Barak said forming the Democratic Union was the first step to put Israel on the path to replace the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Barak predicted that he would enter the Knesset, despite his request to only be placed 10th on the list.
Horowitz is currently set to lead the list, followed by Shaffir. Decisions will be made by the three of them together. Barak wrote on Twitter that the only placement that matters is that Netanyahu won’t be prime minister after the election.
The agreement was reached following a second consecutive marathon overnight meeting of the three leaders on Wednesday night.
“Hope has overcome egos,” Shaffir said at the news conference. “Our home is on fire, and when your home is on fire, you go outside to put out the fire and then rebuild.”
She called for Arab and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) voters to support the party.
Horowitz said the party would be left-wing and proud, and would not join any right-wing government, even one not led by Netanyahu. The top goal of the party in the agreement its leaders signed was reaching a peace agreement.
“The Israeli Left has returned to be large and influential, and the days of kissing up to the Right are over,” he promised. “We will seek peace – yes, a diplomatic solution – and it is not only possible, but essential.”
Former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan will be third on the list, and Meretz’s four current MKs will follow him. Representatives of Barak’s party will also be seventh, ninth, 14th and 15th on the list. The Green Movement is also part of the merger and will receive the eighth slot for its leader, former MK Yael Cohen-Paran.
“We are happy that Ehud Barak is joining the Meretz list, which will prevent votes in the camp being lost to a party that would not have crossed the electoral threshold,” Labor said, adding that the split made it clear that Labor presents a socioeconomic alternative to the Right, and can attract votes from the Right to help replace Netanyahu’s government.
But Labor leader Amir Peretz slammed Shaffir on Channel 12, saying that “the most anti-democratic act is to lose an election and move to another party.”
Shaffir became the fourth of the six Labor MKs elected in the April election to leave. Then-party leader Avi Gabbay; his No. 2, Tal Rousso; and veteran Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich all quit politics. Following Shaffir’s departure, only Peretz and Itzik Shmuli remain.
Peretz defeated Shaffir and Shmuli in the July 2 leadership race, and Shmuli is under pressure to join the new union. He said he would do his best to bring the entire Labor Party into the union, and if he failed, he would consider his options.
Some Labor activists shifted their support to the new party. Others vowed to try to oust Peretz from within.
Former Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg welcomed the move, calling it “a dramatic step to strengthen the Left,” and that it would broaden the appeal of the Israeli Left and bolster “positions of justice and equality as an alternative to the corrupt and messianic right-wing.”
Meretz MK Esawi Frej told The Jerusalem Post that he not only supported the unity deal but was “the architect,” and also indicated that Barak would apologize directly to the families of 13 Arab citizens killed in protests in 2000, when Barak was prime minister.
Frej had previously been openly hostile to a merger between Meretz and Barak’s Israel Democratic Party because of widespread resentment among the Arab community against the former prime minister.
Barak apologized for the killings earlier this week, and said he was responsible for everything that happened on his watch, a move that ultimately paved the way for the new political union to happen.
“Everyone made compromises, including me,” Frej explained. “I acknowledge that not everyone on the list agrees with each other, but we made these compromises to create hope that has been so lacking in our camp, to create something greater than its parts.”
Asked if the union with Barak would negatively impact the electoral attraction of Meretz to Arab citizens, Frej said he believed it would, but that the party could overcome this problem.
“Meretz as Meretz managed to gain legitimacy on the Arab street and receive great support, we had very positive momentum,” he said in reference to the large number of votes the party received from the Arab sector in the April election.
In response to the news of the merger, Netanyahu tweeted “I won’t get involved in how the Left splits its votes.”