Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon, who was nearly elected Labor Party chairman last year, announced his departure from the party Sunday morning. The former OC Navy and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director had been expected to meet with Labor chairman Ehud Barak early Sunday to inform him of his decision. Barak's associates had said he would try to convince him to stay but that if he was set on leaving, he should quit the cabinet and the Knesset. Ayalon faced criticism from his supporters who warned him that he could be jeopardizing his political career. They noted that had he remained in Labor, he could have easily replaced Barak in a leadership race after the general election. "It is unfortunate that he decided to commit political suicide instead of just waiting patiently for his turn," said a top Labor activist who campaigned for Ayalon when he ran for Labor leader. Labor secretary-general MK Eitan Cabel blasted Ayalon for leaving Labor after he received so much support from the party. He predicted that Ayalon would later regret his decision. "It's not fair for him to try to harm Labor, which was his home and gave him everything," Cabel said. "I hope he has a last-minute change of heart and stays." The new party that is being formed on the Left held its first meeting at Meretz's Tel Aviv headquarters on Friday. The meeting was attended by 20 key figures, including former Labor MKs Uzi Baram, Avraham Burg and Tzali Reshef, former Barak advisers Gilad Sher and Yossi Kucik, and author Amos Oz. "There should be a party broader than Meretz to represent the Left, because Labor has finished its historic role," Oz said. "Labor has a credibility problem. Even if they promised me they wouldn't join a right-wing government, I still think they would jump to be a junior member in any coalition." The new party is being organized by Meretz chairman Haim Oron, Baram and political strategist Doron Sternshuss. Its goal is to win 15 to 20 seats in the next Knesset and replace Labor as the dominant party on the Left. Decisions will be made over the next three weeks about who should run for Knesset on the party's behalf and what the new party's name will be. Its organizers hope to hold a large rally forming the party on December 5. The party's organizers said there was plenty of room to grow from Meretz's current five seats and the 12 mandates forecasted for Labor. They pointed out that the two parties together won 56 seats in the 1992 election. "We hope a reorganization with openness to youth and environmental concerns can bring new hope to the Left and change voting patterns," one party organizer said. "We want to restore the Left's representation in the Knesset to the level of its representation in the general public." Meretz officials said it was still not certain whether Ayalon would be welcomed into the new party. They mocked him for insisting on one of its top two slots. "Ayalon is a man who doesn't have enough of an ideology for an ideological party like Meretz," a party official said. "He needs to decide what his views are before he comes here. He might scare away more votes than he could bring." Oron praised Ayalon as a serious MK, but said it was not final that he would be joining the new party. He expressed confidence that the party would be able to bring many more mandates to the Left. "There is a gap on the Left that Meretz is not large enough to fill," Oron said. "We will appeal to new sectors and form a bloc that could become the third largest party in the Knesset and fill a big void." Also on Sunday, Kadima MK Ze'ev Elkin notified party leader Tzipi Livni of his intention to leave the party, Israel Radio reported. In a letter to Livni, Elkin expressed "deep disappointment" in the manner in which she and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have run Kadima and the country, saying the party has become a leftist party that pursues "extreme left ideas." Elkin was reportedly examining the possibility of joining one of the Knesset's right-wing parties. Meanwhile, Science, Culture and Sports Minister Ghaleb Majadle announced that he had decided to remain in Labor and not form a new Arab party. He expressed frustration that he had not succeeded in convincing the three Arab parties currently in the Knesset to unite into one list. "The Arab parties should all run together," Majadle said. "There is no room for a fourth Arab party."