Unity Efforts on Far Right Fail as Election Lists Close

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Party leaders Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich after reaching an agreement to join forces.
Party leaders Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich after reaching an agreement to join forces.Credit: Twitter

Itamar Ben-Gvir announced Thursday that his anti-Arab party Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) will run on its own in the upcoming election. The development caused distress in Likud over the prospect that Otzma Yehudit will fail to pass the electoral threshold, thus wasting votes that would have gained Knesset seats for the right-wing bloc had the small party run as part of a larger, far-right slate.

“There are those who for reasons of ego blew up attempts to run together, and I aim my darts at [United Right’s] Naftali Bennett,” said Ben-Gvir. “He apparently formed an alliance with [Yesh Atid leader] Yair Lapid and I hope they don’t end up forming a left-wing government together.” Ben-Gvir, who was a leading activist in the now-outlawed Kach party, later told Haaretz that there was no more chance for a union on the right, although he added that negotiations were still underway.

Following the failure to get the United Right and Otzma Yehudit together, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) called the behavior of United Right leader Ayelet Shaked and Bennett irresponsible.

>> Read more: Israel’s do-over election: A guide to all the parties and who holds the keys to the next government

“Bennett and Shaked, who failed to cross the electoral threshold last time, which is why we’re facing a new election, are doing the same thing again,” said Levin. “They received four of the top 10 slots in the United Right party. They had to give up one these for the sake of unity. We acted responsibly and it’s too bad the United Right isn’t doing the same. The public should remember what happened last time when it voted for [Yisrael Beiteinu, headed by Avigdor] Lieberman and got a new election, or for Shaked and Bennett who didn’t pass the threshold, getting a new election instead.”

Otzma Yehudit and the Union of Right-Wing Parties, which is running as part of the United Right in the September 17 election, cooperated in the last election in April. In recent weeks they’ve been negotiating, while at the same time trading barbs in public.

The main bone of contention was the ranking of Otzma Yehudit members on a joint list of Knesset candidates. Ben-Gvir demanded the fifth and 11th places; the union proposed the eighth and 13th slots. Ben-Gvir said on Thursday that he was offered different posts as an inducement to compromise, hinting at a proposal that the union would seek the post of deputy Knesset speaker for him. However, he declared that he was standing firm on ideological issues.

Ben-Zion Gopstein, leader of the anti-gentile Lehava organization, member of Ozma Yehudit and also a former Kach activist, told Haaretz that “there were no real negotiations; we started with the fifth and eighth places and then went down. Their final offer was the eighth and 13th places, which was unacceptable to us.”

Gopstein added that his party had talked to Shaked as well. “There was goodwill on her part, but the deal was scuttled by Naftali Bennett. The reason could be that he’s closed a deal with Yair Lapid or that he’s trying to trip up Shaked and show that she wasn’t more successful than he was. There’s no other explanation.”

Joint List leader: ‘We are not in anyone’s pocket’

The representatives of the Joint List, headed by chairman Ayman Odeh, have submitted their list, which includes members of Hadash, Balad, Ta’al and Ra’am. In the last election these parties ran in two separate lists, Hadash-Ta’al and Balad-Ra’am. Odeh said that “we’ve defeated the divide-and-conquer policy and have come together.”

“Four months ago we made a mistake, but we’ve learned our lesson,” added Odeh. “We are returning together, in a complete unity of the Arab population. We’ll fight for our people and for all weaker sectors of society.”

The Joint List chairman added that “there’s no doubt we want to unseat Netanyahu. However, we’re not in anyone’s pocket. [Kahol Lavan leader] Gantz will have to come talk to us.”

Meanwhile, a Channel 13 poll published Thursday evening shows Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party winning a projected 29 seats in the September 17 election, six more than it received in the previous poll by the channel last week.

This puts Kahol Lavan just one mandate behind Likud, which gained two seats in the poll. Yisrael Beiteinu received 11, one more than it received last week. The Joint List and the United Right are also poised to win 11 seats each, with the latter falling from 14 seats last week. The newly-formed Democratic Union is slated for nine, three less than in last week’s poll.

United Torah Judaism got seven seats, Labor-Gesher and Shas six, with Zehut failing to pass the threshold.

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