Against considerable odds, Meretz has survived this election to continue its exemplary work as Israel’s most consistently progressive and principled force in the Knesset, but just barely. At five seats, it is now the smallest independent faction in Israel’s parliament.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the Meretz rationale for running independently is not valid. It’s only true in a technical sense that the size of the biggest electoral list doesn’t matter, that what really counts is the ability of the center-left bloc collectively to cobble together a majority coalition.
Here’s a “thought experiment” to prove my point: Say that Meretz had joined Herzog and Livni on a common list (disregard whether Herzog and Livni would have agreed) and let’s just assume for the sake of argument that Meretz’s five mandates made the Zionist Union’s total 29 instead of 24; and at the same time, Likud had not taken five seats from Bennett’s party in the final days, so that Likud ended with 25 and Jewish Home with 13 (instead of Likud’s actual 30 and Jewish Home’s 8), we would not be talking about the same electoral result — even though the totals of neither the center-left nor the right blocs would be any different than they are today! The dynamic of the election would be totally different, with greater momentum for either a unity government or a possible Herzog-led coalition — if he could get adequate support from some ultra-Orthodox and/or Arab parties.
Even if (in our thought experiment) we grant Likud the 30 seats it actually won, as compared with our theoretical 29 for a Meretz-enhanced Zionist Union, this might have meant a different result, forcing a unity government. As I readily admit in my Jewish Currents blog piece, “a [unity] government is hardly likely to move forward to peace with the Palestinians, but it may save Israel from a hard-right lunge of anti-democratic legislation and growing international isolation, especially if Bennett and Lieberman’s parties are excluded.”
Likud’s dramatic gain in this election was at the expense of other right-wing factions; this obscured the fact that the right-wing/ultra-Orthodox bloc has lost its majority. It depends upon Moshe Kochlon’s centrist Kulanu party for a majority coalition; even if we regard Kochlon as personally more of a natural ally with Likud (because he came from Likud), this is not the way he positioned himself in the campaign — both in terms of his economic populism and his embrace of his running mate Michael Oren’s call for a withdrawal from the West Bank.
Likud is seen as “winning” only because it gained as a party, not in expanding the right-wing bloc. This fact alone undermines the Meretz argument for continuing to run independently.
There is at least some sentiment in Meretz for teaming up with Labor in a common list, as Mapam (a lineal predecessor of Meretz) had done in creating the Labor Alignment, which lasted from 1968 until 1982. It might be of greater value to Israeli society if Meretz took a bolder and riskier path of partnering with the mostly Arab Hadash party (and possibly with Ahmad Tibi’s party), in a joint list for the Knesset — but not in a merged party. This could open the door for predominantly Arab parties to finally be accepted as components of the governing coalition. The mathematics of this election made it clear that the center-left bloc needs Arab support to become the majority.