Bennett Promoting Merger of Right-wing Parties Ahead of Third Israeli Election

National Union Chairman Bezalel Smotrich is demanding a primary election within the slate before any possible team-up with Habayit Hayehudi

An Education Ministry ceremony featuring outgoing minister Naftali Bennett and his replacement, Rafi Peretz, June 26, 2019.
Emil Salman

The heads of two right-wing parties are negotiating over a joint ticket that would include all the parties to the right of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud ahead of Israel's March 2 general election.

Hayamin Hehadash Chairman Naftali Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Rafi Peretz met on Wednesday and on Thursday to discuss the issue.

The joint slate would include the far-right National Union party and the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit. But senior Habayit Hayehudi officials said National Union Chairman Bezalel Smotrich is blocking this idea.

The officials said Smotrich is refusing to run together with Habayit Hayehudi and has even refused pleas to negotiate with Peretz from mediators in the religious-Zionist community. Smotrich has said any union between the two parties – which ran on a joint ticket in the past two general elections – is impossible without a primary to decide whether he or Peretz should head the ticket.

“Their mutual lack of esteem is so great that they’re not willing to sit in the same room together,” a senior official of one right-wing party said, adding that “The hostility there is very great.”

Smotrich denied on Twitter Thursday night that he and Peretz “loathe each other,” saying that “There’s a little fox who’s trying to sabotage unity.”

“The disagreement between me and Rabbi Rafi is one of principle,” he added. “I’m demanding true unity and democratic [primary] election, and he refuses. I’ve been working resolutely and responsibly over the last few days to create as broad as possible a union that will deserve the public’s trust and maximize the religious-Zionist electorate to Likud’s right.”

In contrast, the dispute at the center of the talks between Bennett and Peretz is which slot on the joint slate should be given to Otzma Yehudit Chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Peretz and Otzma Yehudit have already agreed to run together, and in accordance the terms of this agreement, Peretz is insisting that Ben-Gvir be placed in the top five of the joint ticket. Otzma is also demanding a second representative in the top 10.

Hayamin Hehadash co-leader Ayelet Shaked agreed that Ben-Gvir should be place in the top five on the slate, but Bennett insists he should only be in the second five. He argues that putting Ben-Gvir high on the list could hurt the entire ticket by driving away potential voters.