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Israel

After left-wing merger, right seeks similar union with growing urgency

Right-wing figures redoubled pleas for an alliance between a group of small parties in the camp Monday morning as news broke of a left-wing union between Labor-Gesher and Meretz.

With only two days to go until parties must file their final rosters for the March 2 election, it remained unclear whether New Right, National Union, Jewish Home and Otzma Yehudit could bridge their differences in time — with the major stumbling bloc reported to be New Right chief Naftali Bennett’s reported distaste for the far-right Otzma Yehudit.

“This is the moment for the right to unite,” a Likud source told Hebrew media outlets Monday. “Naftali Bennett must set his ego aside and unite all right-wing parties to prevent the needless loss of [Knesset] seats for a third time. We believe responsibility will trump personal considerations.”

National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich said: “After the union on the left, but also regardless of it, we must all unite, end-to-end. I continue to strive for this today, through every possible path.”

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks at a conference organized by the Makor Rishon newspaper in Jerusalem, November 11, 2019. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

He added, “The right won’t forgive those who prevent this union and cause tens of thousands of votes to go to waste. That is after all the reason we still do not have a right-wing government.”

And Jewish Home, in a statement, said: “The alliance on the left obligates us all to be responsible. There is a real danger to the right-wing government… We call on all partners to convene and quickly reach an agreement.”

Jewish Home has already forged an alliance with Otzma Yehudit, sparking criticism among many in the party over the merger with the Kahanist group.

Parties must submit their final slates to the Central Elections Committee by January 15.

The four parties ran under different configurations in 2019’s two elections, but in both cases a single party’s failure to pass the electoral threshold caused the loss of tens of thousands of right-wing votes.

In April, New Right ran alone while National Union, Jewish Home and Otzma Yehudit ran together as the Union of Right-Wing Parties. The latter won five seats while New Right fell just shy of the 3.25 percent of the vote (or some 138,000 votes) required to enter the legislature, and thus earned no seats.

When new elections were called for September, New Right joined with National Union and Jewish Home under the name Yamina, winning seven seats. But Otzma Yehudit remained outside that alliance, and went on to win 1.88% (or some 83,000 votes) and did not enter the Knesset.

Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to reporters at the Knesset before his far-right party submits its electoral slate to the Central Elections Committee on August 1, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

After the major political parties failed in their attempts to form a coalition and a third election was called, Jewish Home chief Rafi Peretz and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir announced an alliance.

Peretz was expected to bring that accord to his party for confirmation on Monday evening.

New Right and National Union have also been reported in recent days to be closing in on a deal.

While Bennett is believed unwilling to join with Ben Gvir’s far-right faction, polls have also indicated that if they run without the New Right, the three other parties might this time fail to pass the electoral threshold.

National Union’s Smotrich said last week that he would not join with Jewish Home and Otzma Yehudit if the price for entry demanded was too high for him to pay, noting that “there is doubt whether [the alliance] will even pass the electoral threshold.”

Likud is eager to see the right-wing parties merge to ensure they enter the Knesset as his natural coalition allies, without fear that its own campaigning for right wing votes could end up sinking them.

Recent television polls have forecast Likud and its allies would fall short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the Knesset, as happened in the previous two rounds of elections in the past year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on December 29, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Over the weekend, Netanyahu tweeted the “right would not forgive” the leaders of the national-religious factions if they did not run on a single list as they did in the last elections. The tweet did not mention Otzma Yehudit.

Ahead of elections in April, Netanyahu had pushed for Otzma Yehudit’s inclusion in the Union of Right-Wing Parties, sparking condemnation both in Israel and from leading American Jewish groups.

He also sought the party’s inclusion in Yamina in September, but that effort did not succeed. He later urged right-wing Israelis not to back Otzma Yehudit, saying their votes would go to the “trash.”

The merger between the center-left Labor-Gesher and hard-left Meretz is also seen as a marriage of convenience. Though the parties differ on ideology, polls have shown each hovering at between four and six Knesset seats each, in danger of falling below the threshold and endangering the left-wing bloc.

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