National Union leader MK Betzalel Smotrich.
(photo credit: HILLEL MEIR)
Merger talks between National Union leader MK Bezalel Smotrich and Bayit Yehudi head Rabbi Rafi Peretz ended in a deadlock Saturday night.
The two parties ran together in the last two elections, and were expected to do so this time as well. Recent polls have shown that they will be unlikely to pass the electoral threshold if they run separately.
Smotrich and Peretz met on Thursday and Friday to negotiate a joint list. Bayit Yehudi faced a crisis after Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked left the party,
which led to Peretz, a political neophyte, being appointed to its helm. Since then, Smotrich, who is popular in religious-Zionist circles, has been seeking to improve his party’s standing.
Smotrich said it was agreed on Friday to have Peretz be first on the party’s list, but that the National Union would have first choice in choosing jobs in the cabinet or Knesset.
“It’s called equilibrium,” Smotrich said Saturday night, calling the agreement “a significant concession on my part so we can quickly close a deal to run together.”
However, also on Saturday night, Peretz told Smotrich that he no longer agreed with the arrangement, and wanted to return to the situation of the past two elections, in which Bayit Yehudi will lead the list and get the senior ministerial post.
Both Bayit Yehudi’s spokesman and Smotrich on Saturday night described the situation as a “dead end.”
Bayit Yehudi said it is “already preparing to run alone and is continuing to examine other possibilities.”
Smotrich, however, said he “plan[s] to continue to do everything to reach a broad list of all the components of Religious-Zionism and the real Right, even if at the moment it looks like some people in Bayit Yehudi prefer to join the Likud as excess baggage.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has the authority to appoint three people to the Likud’s list in low positions, two of which are in realistic spots.
National Union or Bayit Yehudi could also merge with Otzma L’Yisrael, the right-wing extremist party, which has repeatedly said it is open to running with both parties.
Peretz also said this weekend that his party would be willing to sit in a government led by Israel Resilience Party leader Benny Gantz, who was IDF chief of staff when Peretz was IDF chief rabbi.
“It’s important to emphasize that I simply see our natural and direct partnership to be with the Likud and Netanyahu,” Peretz told Makor Rishon. “That is our first choice, and I want to see us together with the leadership of the country.
“And there’s Benny Gantz, who was my chief of staff, from the day he entered the job,” Peretz added. “We are friends in our hearts and souls. I surely do not disqualify him. We will think and talk and see if we have connecting views. And I know him; we do.”
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