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(photo credit: [file])
After traveling a long and bumpy road of crises and mutual recriminations, the National Union and the National Religious Party agreed late Wednesday night to join forces, just before the deadline for election registration.
Sources close to the negotiations said that Effi Eitam (NU) had raised last-minute objections to the order of the list.
The NU was to receive the first, third, fourth, sixth, eighth, ninth and 12th slots. The NRP was to receive the remaining spots.
Rabbi Tzfania Drori, the chief rabbi of Kiryat Shmona who was instrumental in drafting the agreement between the two parties, said the extensive negotiations and brooding on both sides took some of the joy out of the impending union.
"It ruined a bit of the feeling of peace and brotherhood that should have been felt," said Drori. "But like many tough experiences, first you cry and then you feel better."
According to the agreement, Benny Elon will be first on the list, while Zevulun Orlev will be number two, but will receive the first or most attractive ministerial or Knesset position.
To prevent a split immediately after elections, the two sides promised Rabbi Avraham Shapira and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu that any split must be approved by a special litigating committee headed by former Supreme Court justice Tzvi Tal. Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan Ya'acov Ariel, former judge David Frankel, Rabbi Shabbtai Sabbato, head of the Mitzpe Yericho Yeshiva and Rabbi Avraham Zuckerman, of Yeshivat El Har Hamor, also will sit on the five-man committee.
"There are religious Zionists on the extreme Right or Left that oppose the union," said a source close to the negotiations. "The Right opposes joining forces with the NRP and the Left is afraid the NU will ruin chances of a more moderate religious Zionist leadership. But I think the majority favor the union."
Rabbi Drori said there had been a strong grassroots push to go ahead with the merger.
"A lot of people told us they would sit home on election day if the two parties don't unite," said Drori, who argued that there were no real ideological differences between the parties.
"It is more a matter of semantics. The NU insists on putting across its platform for a Greater Israel in clear, unambiguous language, while the NRP couches its messages in language that is acceptable for both religious and secular, moderates and the right wing."