Labor-Meretz deal presents Netanyahu with a new challenge - analysis

The truth is that the deal might not be so historic – but it should not be mocked, either.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting, December 2019. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting, December 2019.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Following the agreement reached between Labor leader Amir Peretz and Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz to run together in the March 2 election, there was a great deal of exaggeration on both sides.
Those who praised the deal said it would “save the State of Israel,” while those who criticized it said it was “political hacks rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.”
The truth is, the deal might not be so historic, but it should not be mocked, either.
The main impact of the agreement is that neither Labor nor Meretz will fall below the 3.25% electoral threshold. Had one of the parties not gotten enough votes to make it into the Knesset, more than 100,000 left-wing ballots would have been thrown away, making it harder, if not impossible, for Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form a government.
Now Gantz no longer has to be careful about taking votes away from the Left in an effort to win more seats than Likud.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hoped that if one of the parties would not cross the threshold, Likud could have helped him possibly obtain 61 seats on the Right without the Yisrael Beytenu Party of Avigdor Liberman.
Now, that scenario no longer appears possible. Netanyahu will have to work harder to defeat Gantz, because the center-left decided not to self-destruct. He will also have to push harder for unity on the Right. That could mean Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and far-right Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir finding a way to temporarily coexist in one party.
The Right cannot afford to let its votes fall below the threshold and be thrown away.
It is likely that the next Knesset will have fewer parties elected than ever before, though some may break up later – including Labor and Meretz.
Peretz and Horowitz both took a risk by making the deal, because they will likely both end up with fewer MKs for their parties in the next Knesset.
That was the price necessary to satisfy their constituencies, who demanded that they close the deal and put tremendous pressure on the party leaders, because their top priority is ensuring that Netanyahu does not form the next government.
If they accomplish that goal, this deal will be remembered not as saving Israel or drowning with the Titanic – but as a turning point in the election and in Israeli politics.