NRP, NU mks shake hands.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
"We've remained a religious party." The remark, made by a senior official from the National Union-National Religious Party - stung by the Right's election defeat - encapsulated the sense of outright failure in the right-wing religious camp on Wednesday.
The National Union-NRP won nine seats in the elections, according to near-final results released Wednesday morning, one seat lower than the parties had in the last Knesset, but significantly lower than the 12-15 party officials had been hoping for following their long-planned merger earlier this year.
Scrambling to contain the damage, party officials still voiced the hope that they would reach 10 seats after soldiers' votes and those of Israelis who voted in locations other than their home stations - specifically the former Gaza residents - are counted.
Considering the Likud's outright collapse, which brought the once-dominant center-right party to a level of support not much greater than that of the NU-NRP, (not to mention the rock-bottom results the far-left Meretz party garnered), the NU-NRP did not fare so badly. But the bottom line is failure.
Their disappointment was caused by failure to achieve either their large-scale or smaller-scale goals. The former, their long-held hopes of forming a bloc of 61 seats that would prevent Kadima leader Ehud Olmert from carrying out his planned unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, was unequivocally shattered.
The latter, broadening the parties' appeal through their merger to attract secular hawkish voters, also went unrealized. The NU-NRP, with its predominantly religious Knesset list, remains a narrow sectarian party of the "national religious" camp.
"If we will be a sectoral party, then we have failed in our task," party leader MK Benny Elon had said last week, in a belated effort to reach out to secular voters.
The party which was most vociferously opposed to the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza - and which headed the anti-disengagement campaign - simply failed to attract the support of the public at large. The vote was all the more jarring for the Right in that it was seen as something of a referendum on Olmert's plans for a future large-scale pullout as well.
"We are going into a very very difficult period," said settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein, who described his constituency as "exhausted" after the Gaza pullout and the violent evacuation of the Amona outpost. "It is time for soul-searching," he added.
The long-awaited merger between the two right-wing religious parties may have saved the National Religious Party from political oblivion, but it clearly failed in its larger goal of catapulting the party into the big leagues.