New Right Party leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked signed an agreement today with National Union Party chairman and Minister of Transport Bezalel Smotrich to form a joint list in the upcoming elections. Yesterday, the National Union Party and the Jewish Home Party, led by Rabbi Rafael Peretz, almost signed an agreement for a joint list.
In today's announcement, Bennett, Shaked, and Smotrich called on Peretz to join them, emphasizing that the agreement already signed leaves the door open for an equal and respectable place for the Jewish Home Party.
Their statement did not mention Itamar Ben Gvir and the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party and elimination of the alliance between Peretz and Ben Gvir formed a month ago.
Bennett said, "This is a great day. We have reunified the house. We have brought about a great unity in the ideological right and religious Zionism, from the religiously traditional to nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews, from wearers of knitted skullcaps to those who wear nothing on their heads, from Tel Aviv to Kedumim in Samaria. I call on my friend Rabbi Peretz to join us immediately in one united party for the victory of the nationalists in the elections."
Shaked said, "I welcome unity with the National Union. Smotrich is a partner and an ally. The alliance with him unites all parts of religious Zionism and the secular religious right, and will ensure the forming of a stable and secure rightwing government. I call on the Jewish Home Party to join us."
Smotrich said, "In recent weeks, we have been doing everything in order to show real responsibility by making alliances that will bring good news and hope to religious Zionist and ideological rightwing voters. I am glad to say that we took a momentous and great step in this direction today. With God's help, we will achieve full unity with the Jewish Home Party in the next few hours."
Under the agreement with Smotrich, he will be in second place on the list, relegating Shaked to the third place. Ofir Sofer, the number two in Smotrich's party, will be in fourth place - an unusual demonstration of generosity towards Smotrich on the part of Bennett. New Right sources said that the decision to do this was taken after Zehut Party chairman Moshe Feiglin rejected yesterday an offer to join New Right, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exerted great pressure on Bennett to form a complete union of the right.
The negotiations between Smotrich and Peretz were almost completed yesterday, but the National Union says that they were promised that the agreement reached would be approved by the Jewish Home Party central committee. This did not happen, apparently because of opposition by MK Mordhay Yogev to rotation for the fourth place with Ofir Sofer from National Union.
National Union announced today the breakdown of its negotiations with Jewish Home, and immediately began intensive negotiations with Bennett and Shaked.
Netanyahu pressed the leaders of all of these parties to run in the elections on a united list. The Likud prefers one rightwing religious party that will win an extra two or three Knesset seats and eliminate the risk that one of the small parties will not receive enough votes to enter the Knesset.
Some pollsters, however, believe that if two parties run separately and both enter the Knesset, they will receive more Knesset seats between them than if they ran together on a single list.
Netanyahu focused his pressure on Bennett, who finally gave in, but refused to include Ben Gvir in the united list. Peretz, who signed an agreement with Ben Gvir, is unwilling to go back on it. This problem still remains now, one and half days before the deadline for submitting lists.
Bennett and Shaked announced yesterday that they would run separately without uniting with any other party, saying, "The New Right will run independently in the upcoming elections as a rightwing ideological and liberal party. This the rightwing bloc's only chance to reach 61 Knesset seats and victory, while a joint party uniting Smotrich, Peretz, and Ben Gvir runs separately."
Jewish Home: Destruction of religious Zionism
Jewish Home's response was one of surprise and initial opposition to the proposal for an alliance without Ben Gvir. "We will reveal the real nature of Smotrich and Bennett - destruction of religious Zionism. Bennett is repeating the mistake he made in the first round of elections, and Smotrich is now making the same grave mistake.
"From the beginning, we called for unity, and they preferred a split that damages the entire right wing. Smotrich is no longer interested in open primaries, democratic choices, or a merger of parties; he cares only about a seat on the New Right. The united Jewish Home will continue moving forward, and we will soon announce what we plan to do."
Otzma Yehudit announced, "After Bennett abandoned religious Zionism, none other than Smotrich is joining him, just because of his ego. Smotrich was on the verge of signing an agreement with the united Jewish Home Party, today, and merely because he was not definitely guaranteed fourth place for Ofir Sofer, he decided to ally with Bennett and Shaked, thereby joining forces with someone who not long ago abandoned religious Zionism.
"New Right and National Union are trying to eliminate religious Zionism with a ridiculous combination for the sole purpose of getting more Knesset seats. Smotrich caused an uproar among the public in recent weeks with his statements about joining forces, unity, primaries, and merging, but we see that all of his statements were aimed at getting higher places on a list. Otzma Yehudit and Jewish Home will add more groups to the religious Zionist list, and together, we will bring victory to the right in the elections."
Rabbi Chaim Druckman, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, and other leading religious Zionist rabbis are now expected to step into the picture.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 14, 2020
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