Now much reduced, Labor and Meretz look to pick up the pieces

"Our decisions have no influence on how the coalition will look. We are getting ready to sit in the opposition," Labor source says.

haim oron 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haim oron 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Labor and Meretz are preparing for hard work in the opposition, where they believe they can pave the road to regaining the public's trust. Two days after the general elections that cut down both Meretz (from five to three Knesset seats) and Labor (from 19 to 13), they say that they are not considering joining the next government. They are not even sure whom, if anyone, they will recommend that President Shimon Peres designate to form that government. "Our decisions have no influence on how the coalition will look. We are getting ready to sit in the opposition," a source in Labor said on Thursday. Labor officials rejected predictions that party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak would leave the party - and politics - or perhaps agree to stay in the Defense portfolio and resign his position in the party, as some rumors have it. "Barak isn't considering leaving the party. He continues to lead the party and he is prepared to do it from the opposition. Barak is the only figure in the Labor Party who is perceived as capable of and is capable of leading the party," a source close to Barak said. "[Losing seats] is a big blow for us and we understand the situation. Many of the classic left-wingers voted for [Kadima leader Tzipi] Livni, and that killed us. We are starting to hear regrets from people who voted for Livni and only now realize what they have done, and that what we said ahead of the elections was true. It was not smart to vote for Livni just to block [Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu] Bibi at the cost of ruining the left-wing camp," the source said. Though there have been calls to create a strong Left bloc in the opposition by merging Labor and Meretz since the failures of the two parties became clear, their members said it was too soon to consider such a move. "First we need to see if a government can be formed, and then we will examine what options we have," the Labor source said. Early next week, the Labor faction is scheduled to meet to decide which MK they will recommend that the president appoint to form a government, and to agree on the party's agenda. The mood was similarly bleak within Meretz on Thursday, except for stronger recriminations against party chairman Haim Oron. He said his party would not recommend anyone to Peres to be the next prime minister. Oron, who is being blamed for Meretz's poor showing in the election, announced that he would not resign from the Knesset to make room for Zehava Gal-On, who chaired the party's faction in the 17th Knesset. Oron said that one of the reasons Meretz lost votes was that women's organizations had call on voters to support Livni for the premiership. "I didn't hear these organizations calling on women to vote for Meretz so that Gal-On would be in the next Knesset," he said. Kadima's last-moment campaign, presenting the election as a choice between Livni and Netanyahu, took votes from both Meretz and Labor, Oron said. "Their campaign was obviously successful, but false," he said. "The war between Bibi and Tzipi attracted many of Meretz's potential voters. That cost us about two mandates, and some say even more than that." Oron said further that he did not think the merger with Hatnua Hadasha was behind the party's failure. "This move received a lot of support at first and the polls even predicted us getting three-four more mandates. Last Friday we still had five to six mandates in the polls. Truthfully, I don't see the merger as the reason for the failure," he said. Oron also rejected the argument that Meretz's support for the IDF offensive against Hamas in Gaza during its first four days cost the party votes. "I think we lost votes because we were not supportive of the operation to the end. We say what we think; at first we thought it was right to support the military operation, and when we thought that there was no reason to continue the operation, we said that," he said. Discounting another theory, Oron said, "Hadash didn't take many votes from us. We lost more votes in the Gaza-belt communities than the votes Hadash received all across Israel." Now, Oron said, was the time to rehabilitate the party, to learn from the outcome of the election, and to work hard in the next Knesset to revive the Left. "If Meretz and Labor are in the opposition, I am sure cooperation will increase and will bring more ideas and options," he said, regarding a possible merger with Labor.