The new leader of the right-wing Hayamin Hehadash party, former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday for intervening in her efforts to head a unified right-wing slate in September's Knesset election that would include Hayamin Hehadash and the Union of Right-Wing Parties.
The prime minister expressed opposition to Shaked being positioned ahead of the leader of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, Rafi Peretz, on any joint slate and on Sunday also opposed the formation of the slate altogether. Peretz heads the Habayit Hayehudi, one faction in the Union of Right-Wing Parties.
"We live in a democratic country. It is the public alone that will decide if I head this right-wing union," Shaked said. "I spoke this morning with Rabbi Rafi Peretz, the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi. We had a very good and open conversation and decided to meet in the coming days to cooperate and establish a large, united right-wing bloc," Shaked added.
>> Read more: Shaked wants to lead the right. Netanyahu will do anything to stop her | Analysis
For his part, the prime minister said: "If there is a need I will intervene." In addition, the prime minister's wife, Sara, approached Rabbi Peretz's wife, Michal, asking that he not yield the top spot to Shaked.
On Monday, Netanyahu called on Peretz not to join forces with Shaked's Hayamin Hehadash, saying that the move would not attract votes for his party. The prime minister pressed instead for Peretz to head into the fall election with the same slate of parties as in April's election. In that election, Peretz's Habayit Hayehudi and its National Union partner ran as the Union of Right-Wing Parties with Otzma Yehudit, the far-right party headed by former followers of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.
Speaking on Monday evening, Peretz, who is education minister, said he would be meeting again with Shaked soon and "there is no doubt that together we will find the way to unify forces as well as maintain the character of religious Zionism."
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Shaked's colleague in Hayamin Hehadash, Naftali Bennett, who yielded the top spot in the party to her this week, said his party has sent a "concrete proposal" to Habayit Hayehudi, which he called "a fair proposal based on equality." Bennett added that "the ball is in their court," but from the standpoint of Hayamin Hehadash, an agreement can be reached immediately.
"[Garnering] Knesset seats is not a game. It's a tool for carrying out policy. It's rather clear at the moment who is attracting the most seats. If [we] want to govern, [we] need a large and strong Hayamin Hehadash and most importantly, a large right-wing bloc headed by Ayelet [Shaked]."
Hayamin Hehadash, which has sought to attract right-wing secular and religious voters, fell 1,500 votes short of entering the Knesset in April. After Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition following the election, the Knesset voted to dissolve itself and hold new elections on September 17.
Battle with the ultra-Orthodox
In another election development, Arye Dery, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, kicked off his party's campaign on Monday at an event in Jerusalem. The party is running on a social welfare platform and efforts to combat poverty, along with a commitment to join a future Netanyahu-led government. "We are the only social [welfare] party on the right and, as a practical matter, actually on the entire political map," Dery said.
At the event, Dery also committed not to sit in a cabinet with Yair Lapid, who is No. 2 on the Kahol Lavan party slate. Lapid, a former finance minister, is widely disliked in the ultra-Orthodox community because of his campaign to strip draft-age yeshiva students of exemptions from army service when he served in government between 2013 and 2015.
"There are a lot of possibilities in forming a government, but one thing is clear. Lapid won't be in this government," Dery said, although he added that he would not oppose Kahol Lavan's membership in a coalition government as long as Lapid was not a cabinet minister.
With regard to Avidgor Lieberman, the head of Yisrael Beiteinu party, Dery said he would not rule out serving in a government with him. Lieberman refused to join a Netanyahu-led coalition following the April election over disagreements with the ultra-Orthodox parties on a military conscription bill. As a result, Netanyahu was unable to form a majority coalition.
Lieberman has been campaigning against increased religious political influence in the country. The former defense minister has dismissed talk that his party would refrain from joining a government led by Netanyahu following the election in September. Withholding such support could lead to the formation of a left-wing government, he said.