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Labor chairman Peretz to join Netanyahu-led unity government: Reports

Labor legislator Itzik Shmuli will also join, but party colleague Merav Michaeli said to remain outside Israeli government
Israeli leader of Labor Party Amir Peretz greets woman while campaigning in Tel Aviv last year (AFP)

Israel's Labor chairman Amir Peretz will join a unity government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following a Sunday meeting with representatives of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, Haaretz reported on Sunday.

Peretz follows Gantz, who on Thursday became speaker of parliament and joined Netanyahu in the government, as reported by Middle East Eye. That move provoked an implosion of the anti-Netanyahu block Gantz had led. A committee on Sunday formalised the fracture of Blue and White, with Gantz's faction keeping that name, AFP said.

Fellow prominent Labor legislator Itzik Shmuli will also be joining the government, but their party colleague Merav Michaeli will reportedly remain outside.

The two dovish politicians may receive the economy and welfare ministerial portfolios, respectively, according to Hebrew media reports, the Times of Israel said later.

Michaeli had been trying to convince Peretz not to side with Netanyahu, convening an emergency meeting on Sunday to try to convince him otherwise. Former ministers and legislators from the party also took part in a video call to try to change Peretz's mind, as did dozens of activists, according to Haaretz.

Labor ran in Israel’s 2 March election on a joint left-wing slate along with Meretz and Orli Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher, who formally requested two weeks ago to split from the alliance.

Peretz had vowed during the election campaign not to join a Netanyahu-led government, citing the premier's pending corruption trial.

Netanyahu is accused of a range of offences including receiving improper gifts and offering a media mogul lucrative regulatory changes in exchange for favourable coverage. He denies wrongdoing.  

His trial had been scheduled to open last week, but because of the coronavirus pandemic was postponed until at least 24 May.

Blue and White and Labor are to meet on Monday and decide on the allocation of government portfolios, following marathon talks between Gantz and Netanyahu's parties on dividing the ministries, Haaretz said.