As Center-left Coalition Talks Stall, Meretz Elects Knesset Slate

Meretz party members elected Thursday the left-wing party's ticket for Israel's September 17 election, amid ongoing negotiations on a coalition of center-left parties, which would prompt a joint slate that may affect Meretz representatives' chances of making it into the next Knesset.

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Journalist and former Knesset member Nitzan Horowitz, who was elected chairman last month, is first on the party's ticket, followed by former chairwoman Tamar Zandberg and MK Ilan Gilon. Esawi Freige and Mossi Raz, who had considered a joint Arab-Jewish run for party leadership, were elected to the fourth and fifth spots on the party's slate, followed by Meretz's last sitting MK Michal Rozin at the sixth spot, making her the second woman on the list after Zandberg.

Freige, the only non-Jewish representative on any of the top five spots, lauded what he said was a victory for his faction of Meretz, which also includes Zandberg and Raz, and opposes teaming up with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who announced his Democratic Israel party last month. "A true left was elected," Freige said. "We're not Barak and not [Labor chairman] Amir Peretz. We're left, and I'm convinced we'll make a strong electoral statement."

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Horowitz, who praised the party's "excellent team" after results were announced in Tel Aviv, met also on Thursday with Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz and with former Zionist Union co-leader Tzipi Livni, who is said to be considering a political comeback as part of a broad center-left coalition.

Meanwhile, sources in several center-left parties have argued Labor's Peretz, who also met with Livni on Thursday, is blocking moves to form a joint slate. "He's got the key for a union right now," said one source. "So far, he hasn't given a green light to start negotiations."

The parties, so far, have failed to agree on a politician to lead the coalition. Sources in Labor, Meretz and Democratic Israel have all said Peretz was working to attract politicians such as Livni and Orli Levi-Abekasis, whose Gesher party failed to pass the 3.25-percent electoral threshold in the April ballot, in a bid to improve his chances of leading the joint center-left slate.

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Some other Labor lawmakers and officials have urged the party's leadership to go into talks as soon as possible, and some, like MK Stav Shaffir, have even done so publicly. With an August 1 deadline to register Knesset slates, sources in all three parties have assessed that a decision will be made within two weeks, to allow Labor and Meretz party conventions enough time to approve any agreement that would be reached.

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