Israel elections: Smotrich, Ben-Gvir to finalize merger in 'coming days'

Pressure has been up because the primary will provide coverage and interest in Smotrich's party, which could be translated into bargaining power, according to a source from the Yamina party.

 Head of the National Union party MK Betzalel Smotrich and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir attend Otzma Yehudit party's election campaign event in Bat Yam on April 06, 2019.  (photo credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)
Head of the National Union party MK Betzalel Smotrich and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir attend Otzma Yehudit party's election campaign event in Bat Yam on April 06, 2019.
(photo credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)

Religious Zionism party chair Bezalel Smotrich and Otzma Yehudit chair MK Itamar Ben-Gvir will begin “accelerated negotiations” to merge into one list and will finalize the agreement in the “coming days,” Smotrich announced after the two met on Tuesday afternoon.

Over the past few weeks, Ben-Gvir has repeatedly and publicly called on Smotrich to come to an agreement quickly. Ben-Gvir wants to finalize the list before Religious Zionism holds its first-ever primary election on August 23. This is because the primary will provide coverage and interest in Smotrich’s party, which could be translated into bargaining power, according to a source from the Yamina Party.

Ben-Gvir explicitly threatened on KAN radio as late as Monday that he would not wait until the end of Smotrich’s primary, and that “the chances were rising” that he would run alone.

How much of a chance do they have? 

A poll published by Channel 13 on Sunday found that the Religious Zionist list would rise to 13 seats if Ben-Gvir headed the list, compared to just 10 seats if it was headed by Smotrich. This may be what forced Smotrich’s hand in agreeing to finalize the list this early.

 MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference ahead of the upcoming elections, in Jerusalem, July 11, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90) MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference ahead of the upcoming elections, in Jerusalem, July 11, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

The party on Tuesday published the criteria and protocol of the primary election, which will offer both electronic and physical voting options and include races for both the party leader and the party list.

“We are happy to see the new members joining every day, from all shades of religious-Zionism and the religious Right,” party CEO Yehuda Vald said.

“Everyone has had enough of the schisms and splintered parties, and wants a unified party that is dedicated to its electorate and to values. The transparency and democratic process in the primary are an important part of building trust in the party,” Vald said.

Strength in numbers

The Religious Zionism Party in the outgoing Knesset was a merger of three parties: Smotrich’s faction called Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and MK Avi Maoz’s Noam. The August 23 primary is only for Smotrich’s faction.

Otzma Yehudit broke off from the party a few days after the election was announced on June 20 so as to enable itself to renegotiate its position in the joint list. Neither Noam, Otzma Yehudit, or additional religious-Zionist party The Jewish Home (Habayit Hayehudi) Party agreed to join the primary.

The Jewish Home confirmed Givat Shmuel’s Mayor Yossi Berdoni as chairman of the party on Monday. Berdoni on Tuesday announced that he was fully committed to a right-wing government and opposed a coalition with centrist and left-wing parties.