(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The on-again off-again talks between MK Eli Yishai’s new Yachad Ha’am Itanu Party and the hard-right Otzma Yehudit Party led by former MK Michael Ben-Ari were revived once more on Tuesday and show signs of bearing fruit.
Yishai and Ben-Ari met this morning at Yishai’s home in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood and discussed once again the possibility of running together on a joint list.
Most recent polls have put Yachad just under the electoral threshold, while Otzma is not polling more than two seats and will definitely fail to enter the Knesset if it does not join with Yachad.
Otzma No. 2 Itamar Ben-Gvir told The Jerusalem Post that the meeting between Yishai and Ben- Ari was “very positive” with no disagreements between the two during their discussion.
One of the main issues that has prevented progress on an agreement to unite the two factions’ electoral lists for the election is which spots on the list Otzma candidates would get.
Ben-Gvir said that Otzma is within its rights to demand the second or third slots, but had requested only the fourth spot to show its willingness to achieve an agreement. The party is also seeking another spot for one of its candidates in the top six places on the list.
Ben-Gvir also insisted that, contrary to reports that had been leaked by a Yachad MK other than Yishai, Otzma is not demanding that the issue of Jewish rights and access to the Temple Mount be part of a joint platform.
Both Ben-Ari and Ben-Gvir are ardent and vocal advocates of increasing Jewish access and rights at the site, but Yoni Chetboun, the only other Yachad MK other than Yishai, is close to Rabbi Shlomo Aviner who opposes Jewish visits to the site.
Ben-Gvir said that should Yachad and Otzma unite for the elections it would be a “technical unification only,” and that it would be in the interests of both parties to split up after the election.
He said that he is “hopeful that a deal will be concluded” but remains cautious as to whether or not an agreement will ultimately be reached.
A poll conducted by Panels Politics for the Knesset Channel and published on Tuesday showed that if Otzma and Yachad were to unite they would pass the electoral threshold with five Knesset seats.
A previous poll published last week and also conducted by Panels Politics gave the joint list seven Knesset seats.
On Tuesday, Yachad announced that Dudi Shomenfeld, a radio personality who is close to the Chabad hassidic group, is joining the party and would be on Yachad’s electoral list.
In a statement to the press, Yachad said that Shomenfeld, who has a radio program on the Kol Barama radio station, had fought against discrimination toward Sephardi girls in haredi schools, a potent issue for the Sephardi haredi community, and for a better attitude within the haredi community to youths who drop out of the yeshiva system.
Appointing Shomfeld to Yachad’s electoral list would appear to be a strategic decision on behalf of Yishai and the party to try and capture part of the Chabad vote, which according to some estimates is worth as much as one Knesset seat, or many thousands of votes.