Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich may now have to fight for her political survival in the wake of Labor's poor showing in the elections.
The party, which won just 15 seats, had dreamed of forging a center-left barrier bloc that would deny Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a 61-member majority in the Knesset. But it was dealt a crushing blow on Wednesday after Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, whose party won a surprising 19 seats, ruled out such a maneuver and praised the premier for the core principles he laid out for the next government.
On Wednesday, Yachimovich held talks with several party leaders and fellow Labor officials. She urged Knesset members to recommend that President Shimon Peres designate Lapid as the presumptive prime minister and offered to bring Labor into his would-be coalition. But Yachimovich's effort did not gain traction, as even top Labor officials doubted its feasibility.
"Shelly is in trouble. She had pledged not to enter a Likud-led government and she distanced herself from the peace process and ultimately failed to deliver seats. Now she wants to make herself look better by negating others," said one top Labor official.
Yachimovich reiterated her pledge to stay out of Netanyahu's coalition on Wednesday. While conceding that the results of the elections were "disappointing," she said "a difficult path lies ahead." She said she hoped the coalition would include "the moderate forces, without Netanyahu." She implored Lapid not to enter Netanyahu's coalition.
Yachimovich said that "a much greater number of people would follow our lead in this difficult, yet correct, path we have chosen to pursue. I am going to muster all the strength I can to establish a peace-seeking coalition that is based on socio-economic issues, without Netanyahu. It is possible. But if we are not successful, our battle-ready team of terrific faction members will lead a feisty opposition the likes of which Israel has never seen."
Party members have already began preparing for battle. The party's charter stipulates that a party leader must submit to a leadership vote no later than 14 months after any general election. MK Eitan Cabel (Labor), who supported Yachimovich's main rival in the party primaries, attacked her, saying, "Getting 15 seats is a crushing blow."
"Shelly Yachimovich got our backing, unlike any that any other Labor leader has received in the past 20 years. I don't know if I will run against her. I will not give an answer in the heat of the moment. Yachimovich rehabilitated the party? Come on! We had 13 seats [after the 2009 elections]. But I think the biggest mistake was her declaration that she would not sit in a Netanyahu government. She made a litany of mistakes, and one of them was her refusal to run on the peace process," Cabel said.
Erel Margalit, who ran for the party leadership the last time around and who will be a Labor MK in the 19th Knesset, also attacked Yachimovich for having avoided taking a stand on the peace process. "We should have expressed ourselves more clearly over our foreign policy agenda," he said.
Others inside Labor talked about who was to blame for Labor's weak performance and whether it extended beyond Yachimovich to include her advisers, who allegedly failed to keep her away from the two major pitfalls in her campaign: her decision to run only on domestic issues and her pledge not to join a Netanyahu coalition.
MK Isaac (Buji) Herzog (Labor), who chaired Labor's campaign as the No. 2 candidate on the list, said, "Everyone makes mistakes; we will have to talk about them." Herzog was also among those who ran for party leadership in 2011, but failed to make it to the second round, which Yachimovich won.
MK Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor), who did not make it into the Knesset this time because of the party's low number of votes, called on Yachimovich to draw the right conclusions from the elections.
"This is a disappointing and painful result. Those less privileged, the people we should have championed, did not relate to Shelly's message; she did not connect," he said. "She merged herself with the party and turned the elections into a referendum on her credibility. The party lost, and she lost. She should do some thorough soul searching and draw the right conclusions."