(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Meretz faction, which has only five MKs, will have four leadership candidates in its March leadership race after MK Haim Oron announces his candidacy, which is expected as early as Monday. Oron will join a crowded field that already includes incumbent Yossi Beilin and MKs Ran Cohen and Zehava Gal-On. He said that all the candidates were skilled and unique and that there was nothing wrong with all of them running.
"My friendship with Haim will not be harmed even after the party votes to reelect me," Beilin said. "All of our MKs are excellent legislators that every party would want."
The only Meretz MK who is not running is Avshalom Vilan, who is close to Labor chairman Ehud Barak and is rumored to be defecting soon to a slot Barak will reserve for him on the Labor list.
Barak's aide Eldad Yaniv met with Gal-On last week to gauge whether she would join Labor as well. She replied that she was running for Meretz leader and intended to win.
Sources close to Barak said that he was interested in Labor running together with Meretz and he had preliminary discussions on the matter with Beilin. His associates have also contacted the Green Party, which has never entered the Knesset.
Labor and Meretz may be forced to run together if Knesset Law Committee chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) passes his electoral reform proposal. The plan would automatically give the leader of the largest party the first chance to form a new government instead of the current system whereby the president selects the party chairman whom he believes would have the best chance of forming a stable coalition.
In such a scenario, Meretz would seek to join forces with Labor to try to stop Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu from becoming prime minister.
Meretz MKs have vowed to block the plan, which they said "would not only destroy Meretz, it would also destroy Israeli democracy."
A Meretz source said the Labor Party was interested in shifting leftward and taking on elements of Meretz, because it would be the only way to differentiate Labor from Kadima and Likud in the next general election.
"Kadima and Labor are so similar that [Barak] knows that if he doesn't distinguish himself he won't do well in the election," the Meretz source said. "If the peace train is gathering steam, Labor wants to be on board."
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