Labor will lead the opposition if it fails to capture the premiership, party Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich vowed on Wednesday.
"There are two possible paths after the elections: to have me form the next government or to have us lead the opposition," Yachimovich declared.
Yachimovich lambasted the Right for its "radicalization" and for the draconian spending cuts the Likud wanted to introduce in next year's state budget, saying she had no choice but to stay out of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government if he won a third term.
"I call on those who believe in a fair society, the pursuit of peace, the rule of law and democracy to join our cause," Yachimovich said. She said that while she did not like "the politics of ruling-out" and had initially refused to say she would not enter a Likud-led government, the conduct on the other side of the ideological spectrum had made her rethink that position.
"In the wake of this past week's events, a very clear picture has emerged on all fronts. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans have been finally been conveyed in full, relating to the most painful austerity-based budget that was ever introduced, and which will turn Israel into a living nightmare economically and have our society plunge into chaos," Yachimovich said.
She attacked the Right for what she said was an increasingly hard-line posture. The emerging threat of Naftali Bennett and his national religious party Habayit Hayehudi, she explained, caused those on the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list to play to their base in the hope of outflanking Bennett's party from the Right.
"There is a wild surreal race between Netanyahu and [Yisrael Beytenu leader] Avigdor Lieberman and Bennett; between the Orit Struks [a prominent settler on Bennett's list] and the Feiglins in the Likud [referring to far-right Likud candidate Moshe Feiglin]," she said. She noted that this also included "prostration on the Temple Mount, annexation talks and plans to transfer Palestinians [referring to an incident in which Likud candidate Moshe Feiglin suggested paying Palestinians to emigrate]."
Yachimovich also faulted Netanyahu for "embracing the No. 2 person on his list and his confidant [Avigdor] Lieberman," even after he was indicted for corruption. "He hugs him at every possible forum," she said. She criticized Netanyahu for earmarking the Foreign Affairs ministry for Lieberman in the wake of his resignation to allow him to be reappointed as foreign minister after his trial, "as if this is some marginal position."
"This is not the Likud we have become used to: There is Feiglin on one side and Yvette [Avigdor] Lieberman on the other side; there is radicalization on every part of their ideology," Yachimovich said.
She stressed that as far as she was concerned, the race was still wide open. "I refuse to accept the resignation with which we have treated this campaign, and the premise that Netanyahu has already won, if he has been crowned as the king of Israel," Yachimovich said. "I do not share this defeatist approach."
Yachimovich said Israelis should vote for her if they want to "lower housing prices, rather than give gifts to the tycoons, if they believe the Supreme Court is an asset, not a liability, and if they think that a free press is one of the underpinnings of democracy, not a threat to it, and if they believe Israel should launch a peace process because a binational state is a threat to our national vision."
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) attacked Yachimovich, saying she was "making a conscious decision to lie." He said that the Likud had provided Yachimovich with clear explanations on the proposed state budget, and it did not include the austerity measures she noted.
The leader of the left-wing Meretz party Zahava Gal-On also attacked Yachimovich for being a flip-flopper shortly after her announcement, saying her campaign was poll-driven rather than ideologically motivated.
Labor is projected to win 16 seats in the Jan. 22 Knesset elections, according to a new poll commissioned by Israel Hayom earlier this week and conducted by New Wave Research. On the question on who is most qualified to serve as prime minister, only 10.3% named Yachimovich, compared with 43.2% who chose Netanyahu. Hatnuah ("The Movement") leader Tzipi Livni, was the preferred choice of 12.9% of the respondents.