Labor Chair Amir Peretz’s refusal to merge with other center-left parties felt deeply cynical, and even downright shocking given his initial promise to eagerly seek unification. His press conference last week announcing his political union alongside center-right Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abekasis was barely preceded by seemingly positive talks with Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz; pundits claimed it was simply a matter of days until a final merger agreement was signed. Nevertheless, the nightmare scenario envisioned by some — a complete fracturing of the center-left camp with one or more parties hovering close to the electoral threshold — has thankfully been averted following the overnight creation of a joint list including Meretz, Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party, and Labor defector Stav Shaffir.

Peretz may be vindicated if his controversial alliance ends up paying off in the form of more mandates. Yet in this case, it’s difficult to understand what compelled him to make such a decision. Levy-Abekasis, who initially had no plans to run in this election cycle, was indeed polling well a year ago when she was tagged by the media as yet another centrist savior, but her popularity proved to be without substance in April’s elections, as she fell well under the threshold. Nor has the recent merger proven much of a boon in any of the polls released thus far. Even more glaring is the choice to ally with a former member of Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, a party hardly known for its left-leaning proclivities. Peretz claims that Gesher made a natural partner to Labor given its emphasis on socioeconomic issues, yet Meretz too has repeatedly emphasized such issues as part of its party platform, and none of its members can be accused of sponsoring ultra-nationalist legislation.

All of this points to Peretz’s wish to be included in any future coalition, even if it is led by right-leaning forces. Such assumptions were further solidified through mealy-mouthed statements by both Peretz and Levy-Abekasis that this new union would be unwilling to sit with a prime minister under indictment, a far cry from claims that a strong Labor would prevent Netanyahu from being able to form a government.  If true, it seems a bizarre misstep on the part of a seasoned politician who is now in for a rude awakening. Labor’s drive to attract more right-leaning votes will put it squarely in competition with Kachol Lavan; despite seemingly having far more right-wing bona fides, even the latter has been struggling to shed its “leftist” image. And while it’s true Peretz has already appealed to the right in the past during his initial stint as party chair back in 2006, he is operating in a completely different political climate now. As Al-Monitor’s Mazal Mualem points out, ten years under Netanyahu’s premiership and an environment that rewards binary posturing means right-wing voters are fiercely loyal to Likud in a way they haven’t been before, and are therefore unlikely to switch over to a party and politician long associated with the left. Worst of all, Peretz’s move embraces a defeatist narrative that confirms permanent left-wing subservience to right-wing governments, being content with the scraps of a ministerial position.

Peretz’s decision had, naturally, prompted strong protests from other parties in the center-left bloc, as well as from within Labor’s own ranks. Nonetheless, he hardly could have anticipated firebrand Shaffir threatening to undo his decision by going to the party committee later this week to prevent the Labor-Gesher merger, ultimately leaving the party, and prompting other Laborites to consider joining her. In a bizarre mirror image of years past, Peretz has now taken the role of party spoiler willing to theoretically cozy up to the right, with former Prime Minister Barak begging for left-wing unity and the shunning of Netanyahu — even going to far as to settle for a lower place on the list that offers only a moderately realistic chance of earning him a mandate. Yet what is most disappointing in Peretz’s decision is not the damage he does to his own camp — although that is troubling in and of itself — but the instance of yet another established figure long seen as an incorruptible member of the left succumbing to crass political opportunism.

Of course, Peretz is a politician, and as such, he is understandably prone to act in a way he believes will ultimately be to his own personal benefit and/or survival. Recall that following his loss to Shelly Yachimovich in 2013’s Labor primary, he jumped ship to be number two on Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua list (only to return to the Labor fold when Livni combined with the larger party to create the Zionist Union in 2014). Upon his most recent election, many could take solace in the fact that as a dependable Labor stalwart, he would put aside any differences he had with individual members of other center-left parties and come to a quick agreement over the substance of a united list. Instead, he gave the false hope he was in the final stages of putting together a merger only to throw his colleagues under the bus for the sake of convenience. More disturbingly, if his decision was in fact borne out of the belief it would ultimately help the left-wing bloc, it points to the unfortunate fact Peretz is hardly the astute and seasoned politician many believed him to be.

Peretz’s gamble could now come back to haunt him in the immediate future. Barak’s decision to apologize for the killing of Israeli Arab protestors during the October 2000 riots may be viewed as a cynical ploy to get into the good graces of Meretz and put pressure on Horowitz, but it ultimately paid off in the form of an agreement. Meanwhile, Labor voters angry about Peretz’s irresponsible move and uncomfortable with Levy-Abekasis could abandon what they already see as a sinking ship and throw their lot in with a Barak-Meretz merger that hews closer to their worldview. Had the Labor leader jumped at the opportunity weeks ago, he very well may have managed to push for a deal that would see him leading a united list; now, that is unlikely to be the case. Peretz’s dream of amassing more than a dozen mandates for himself and acting as future kingmaker may indeed be over before it starts.