Israeli far-right party Habayit Hayehudi has accepted an offer from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join forces with Otzma Yehudit, a right-wing party led by followers of racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, in exchange for the education and housing ministries in addition to two seats in the security cabinet. Furthermore, the 28th slot on the Likud ticket will be given to the newly merged party according to the agreement.
Habayit Hayedhui approved the agreement in a vote Wednesday evening.
Otzma Yehudit is led by former lawmaker Michael Ben-Ari, together with Baruch Marzel, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Benzi Gopstein, all former disciples and political descendants of Meir Kahane – the infamous American-rabbi-turned-Knesset-member whose vitriolic racism against Arabs got his Kach party banned from running in the 1988 election. Two years later, he was assassinated in a Manhattan hotel.
The Likud and Habayit Hayehudi said in a joint statement that during the election campaign the parties will not attack one another "but rather will strengthen one another for the sake of the right-wing victory."
Netanyahu said that "the next election is between a left-wing government headed by Lapid and Gantz and a right-wing government headed by me." Habayit Hayehudi, he said, "acted responsibly and managed to close ranks to ensure right-wing votes don't go to waste."
Netanyahu's Likud also signed Wednesday a surplus vote agreement with Habayit Hayehudi.
Benny Gantz's party said in response that "in our government there will be no Balad and no Kahane," referring to the Arab-majority party Balad. Gantz added: "Netanyahu has lost Zionism."
Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Rafi Peretz added: We won't let preachers from the left crown themselves as the leaders of the country. At the end of the process everyone will see that we were right."
Netanyahu's remarks come just hours after he canceled a trip to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday because of assessments that his main rival, Benny Gantz, will join forces with Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid ahead of the election, sources in Likud said.
Netanyahu and Putin will speak on the phone on Thursday morning and a new date for a face-to-face meeting will be set, according to a diplomatic source. A Kremlin aide confirmed that Netanyahu canceled the meeting due to domestic political affairs, Russian media reported.
Thursday's meeting was meant to focus on regional affairs, the situation in Syria and the strengthening of the security coordination. It would have been the first time the two leaders met in Moscow since the downing of the Russian spy plane in Syria in September 2018.
Otzma Yehudit announced earlier Wednesday that they agreed to a merger with Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union, a day before the Thursday deadline to formally register party rosters for the April 9 election.
In a statement, Otzma Yehudit said the move would prevent "the establishment of a leftist government, God forbid."
The announcement, which received the blessing of right-wing rabbis affiliated with the party's leadership, followed pressure by Netanyahu on National Union chairman Bezalel Smotrich and his Habayit Hayehudi counterpart Rafi Peretz to unite with the far-right.
Both parties, whose leaders are due to meet later on Wednesday, still have to agree to finalize the union. Hawkish Smotrich had been thus far reluctant to join forces with Otzma Yehudit, fearing its far-right image would keep voters away. Habayit Hayehudi officials, led by MK Moti Yogev, are urging Peretz not to approve the agreement.
Otzma Yehudit officials agreed to a compromised discussed in recent days, placing its candidates on the 5th and 8th spots on the unified list. However, the party led by former National Union MK Michael Ben Ari and right-wing settler activists Baruch Marzel, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Benzi Gopstein, has yet to announce its candidates.
The party claimed that according to "all data and most recent polls," it would "secure at least four seats," but said it nonetheless chose to support a pro-settlement coalition and a right-wing government. In fact, most recent polls put Otzma Yehudit below the electoral threshold. Habayit Hayehudi is predicted around four out of 120 Knesset seats, leaving Otzma Yehudit with no guarantee that its representative would make it to the Knesset after the election.
National Union's Smotrich also said his party is still looking into a possible merger with former minister and Shas lawmaker Eli Yisahi's Yahad party. "I would very much like to see Eli Yishai enter into this bloc," he told public broadcaster Kan.
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