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(photo credit: Channel 1)
Under the orange banner of the failed Gaza settlers' campaign to save their homes, the National Union Party appeared Tuesday to be heading alone into the upcoming elections, despite efforts to form a joint list with the National Religious party.
Claiming that the "door is still open to negotiations" National Union Party head Benny Elon unveiled the party's platform, which saw as its priority issues the preservation of the West Bank settlements, security, education, Judaism, devotion, excellence, and contribution to society. As he spoke, Elon sat between two politicians who had left the NRP for the National Union, MKs Tzvi Hendel and Effi Eitam.
For over two weeks the two parties tried unsuccessfully to bridge gaps over the question of leadership and the number of candidates each party could put on the Knesset list. At a press conference on the Knesset's top floor, Elon said on Tuesday that the party could not afford to wait, and was launching its election campaign alone in hopes that, either before the election or after, the two parties would unite into a single voting bloc in the Knesset. Elon was hard-pressed to explain why the negotiations had failed or what the differences were between the National Union's platform and that of the NRP.
"Unity is needed, but we can't sit still without taking some action," said Elon.
He dismissed claims that National Union politicians were more interested in preserving their seats than uniting the two parties. Recent polls predicted five mandates for the National Union and four for the NRP in the upcoming March 28 elections.
In his Knesset office three floors down, NRP head Zevulun Orlev renewed his call for unity. He made a similar appeal to the National Union faction last week.
"Those who truly worry about the fate of the Orange supporters and truly feel their pain must unite, overcome the internal divisions and answer the NRP's call to sign a unity document today," he said.
NRP MK Shaul Yahalom was more candid. He blamed the National Union for the negotiations' failure. "They [the National Union] are not interested in unity. They went back on all the agreements. We want a unity that is based on respect and equity and they want it only if they can lead us."
Orlev said that in spite of the fact that his party opposed the evacuation from Gaza, he believed it was a mistake for the right to adopt the orange color, which symbolized the disengagement protest movement, as a political banner for the upcoming Knesset.
He explained that the color limited the campaign to the issue of settlements, which would make it hard for politicians to appeal to a wider spectrum of voters. He added that people outside the settlements also needed to identify with the party and to believe that it would work on a broad range of issues such as education and welfare.
MK Tzvi Hendel, himself a Gaza evacuee, said that orange was an important color for the National Union's campaign. "Our public is orange," he said. "It's the identity tag of 1.5 million Israelis," he said, adding that it symbolized the importance the party placed on maintaining the settlements. Hendel also emphasized the danger the settlements were in, warning that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had created his new Kadima party so that he could go down in history as the leader who evacuated all of Judea and Samaria. "There is a great danger that what happened in Gush Katif, can happen in Beit El and in Jerusalem," he said.
Eitam, who temporarily moved to Gaza to stand with the evacuees in their last months, said, "We survived a terrible destruction, with its victims still living in hotels. We have to gather all our forces to stop any further destruction."
Elon said the experience over the summer had shown them that change comes only in the Knesset and not from protests. Eitam called on all those who wore orange ribbons to go out and vote for the National Union.
Benzi Lieberman, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, told The Jerusalem Post that the two parties were making a mistake by not uniting. The Council, he said, appealed to both parties to work together, and had even offered to provide a mediator to help them bridge their differences.
"If they don't unite, the public will lose faith in them," he said.