Habayit Hayehudi leadership candidate Naftali Bennett signed a document Monday night vowing to run together with the National Union in the next general election if he wins the party’s contest on November 6.
According to the deal, candidates of the two parties will alternate on the joint list. The head of one of the parties will head the list and the other will receive the faction’s top portfolio if it joins the next government.
Bennett signed the deal after he came under pressure from Habayit Hayehudi activists two weeks ago when The Jerusalem Post published an exclusive story that he had told sources in the party if he won, he would get rid of three quarters of the National Union, including its leader Ya’acov Katz. Following the report’s publication, Bennett tried for several days to reach Katz, who refused to take his calls.
Former IDF chief rabbi Avihai Rontzki, a political ally of Bennett, and Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who is close to Katz, arranged a meeting between the two politicians Monday afternoon.
After a few hours of negotiations, Bennett agreed to sign a document, which Bennett's spokesman said he wrote by the National Union said they sent all three Habayit Hayehudi candidates weeks ago. Katz came to the airport to sign it before Bennett left for a fund-raising trip to New York.
Bennett said the deal meant that religious Zionism was unified and it is now time to reach out to non-religious Israelis. Katz called the deal historic and expressed hope that it would result in the combined list winning 15 seats in the next general election.
“We will build a national religious-Zionist party of secular and religious people who will be the spine of a nationalist government,” Katz said.
While Katz called Bennett “the next Habayit Hayehudi leader with God’s help,” a source close to him said signing the deal with him was neither an endorsement nor a prediction that Bennett will win the leadership race. But the source expressed disappointment that the document has not been signed by the other Habayit Hayehudi candidates, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz and MK Zevulun Orlev.
Sources close to Orlev said he has committed many times to negotiating a deal with the National Union after the leadership contest. They accused Katz of interfering in the Habayit Hayehudi race and Bennett of displaying poor judgment.
“Bennett’s hurried decision to sign the document in the airport shows his lack of experience,” an Orlev associate said. “But I am glad that after his zigzag, he reached the right conclusion.”
Herschkowitz’s office said he signed the same document two years ago and will again if he wins the race.
In the National Union, MK Uri Ariel praised the deal but MK Arieh Eldad, who was kept in the dark about the talks, blasted both Katz and Bennett.
“This is not the way to build unity,” Eldad said. “This is a deal between someone who represents only half the National Union and a candidate who has not been elected and has no authority to reach an agreement. Such false moves in the name of unity could lead to a split.”
American-born Habayit Hayehudi Knesset candidates Jeremy Gimpel and Ari Abramowitz, who have been preaching religious-Zionist unity on the campaign trail, praised the deal but said they would wait to see what all three leadership candidates did before making an endorsement in the race.
“We are extremely pleased with Naftali Bennett’s initiative to unite the national camp,” they said. “We now call on the other candidates to declare clearly and publicly that they are committed to unity.The mission of uniting the religious Zionist movement in Israel must transcend our inner party politics and primaries.”