Ayalon, Meretz fail to reach agreement

Minister-without-portfolio may join new left-wing party, says he can't convince public Barak should be PM after leaving Labor.

ami ayalon 248 88  (photo credit: AP [file])
ami ayalon 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon formally announced his decision to leave the Labor Party at a Tel Aviv press conference on Sunday despite not having a firm destination for his new political home. In a late-night meeting on Sunday night, talks broke down without an agreement between Ayalon and the new party being formed by Meretz and other figures on the Left. The two sides decided to keep all their options open and meet again after the new party is formed on December 5. "All sides decided to continue to act independently at this stage and to reconvene in upcoming weeks," according to a statement released following the meeting that was attended by Ayalon and his new political partner MK Michael Melchior, Meretz chairman Haim Oron and the representatives of the new party, former MK Tzali Reshef and attorney Gilad Sher. Reshef said Ayalon could still end up joining the new party but only at a much later stage. Meanwhile, Ayalon's only option appears to be running with Melchior's Meimad Party. Meretz officials and figures on the Left involved in forming the new party said it was not certain that Ayalon was wanted, and Kadima MKs said that they did not want Ayalon in their party either. The Meretz executive will meet in Tel Aviv on Monday to discuss progress in forming the new party. Members of the executive said it was important to insist on including Knesset candidates who would bring additional mandates and expressed doubt that Ayalon could fulfill that purpose. At the press conference, Ayalon denied reports that he had contacts with Kadima about joining the party, despite confirmation to the contrary from Kadima. MKs in Kadima said that among the available MKs, Melchior was more attractive than Ayalon. "Melchior has had great success in advancing education, but Ayalon has not accomplished anything in the Knesset," a Kadima MK close to party leader Tzipi Livni said. "Ayalon doesn't bring anything to Kadima. His views are not the views of Kadima. He supported the Geneva initiative and he is way too far to the Left of us." Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, who is in the party's right flank, added that "it is unreasonable for a leftist like Ayalon to join a party to the Right of Labor." Ayalon burned his bridges in Labor at his press conference, lashing out at party chairman Ehud Barak and the party as a whole. He rejected Barak's request that he quit the cabinet and the Knesset, saying that only Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could fire him. "I have gotten to the point where I could not convince even the people closest to me to vote for Labor, that its path is the right path and that Ehud Barak should be prime minister," Ayalon said. "Ehud Barak is not the problem, which is deeper, but he could have been the solution and he has proven to me and many in the party that he is not the solution." Labor slammed Ayalon's decision, saying that his departure would only help the party renew its ranks. Labor officials said there was now room in a realistic slot on the party's list for new candidates Yariv Oppenheimer, Daniel Ben-Simon, Avi Shaked and Einat Wilf. "Ayalon the military man would be embarrassed by the behavior of Ayalon the politician," an official Labor statement said. "A man who claimed to be ethical and moral became a relentless zigzagger and opportunist. Labor has strong roots and it will continue to be part of the country's leadership." Barak said he regretted Ayalon's departure, which he said would hurt Ayalon more than it would hurt Labor. Barak's associates said they did not understand the difference between Meretz and the new party being formed. Organizers of the new party said there would be no ideological difference between Meretz and the new party, but calling it a new name would allow it to reach out to different sectors of the population who would never vote for Meretz or Labor. A decision will be made by the December 5 founding rally of the party on the new party's name and how its MKs will be chosen. One possibility that has been discussed is alternating between Meretz members and leaders of the new party. In a meeting with his party's Knesset candidates at Labor's Tel Aviv headquarters, Barak blasted the new party, calling it a "fashion show." "The split in the Left doesn't help," Barak said. "A voter on the Left must ask himself who represents the Left's path and its legacy on socioeconomic and security issues. The answer is Labor."