Yamina relies on sectoral unity to prevent losing votes to other parties

Party leaders such as Bennett and Shaked have repeatedly argued that Yamina remains the only party that formally opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett at the Defense Ministry on February 25, 2020. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett at the Defense Ministry on February 25, 2020.
The latest election campaign for the religious, right-wing parties started in ignominy as political in-fighting and ego deeply tarnished the image of the various factions of the religious-Zionist sector.
Bayit Yehudi leader Rafi Peretz tried to do an end-run around National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich, his competitor for the leadership of a consolidated, religiously conservative party list, by uniting with the far-right Otzma Yehudit.
This caused consternation within Bayit Yehudi, leading to ugly scenes in its central committee meeting which resulted in physical scuffles amongst the different factions.
Smotrich in turn outflanked Peretz by uniting with Naftali Bennett’s more electable New Right outfit, which had 24 hours earlier pledged to run alone as a liberal, right-wing party.
This set up a nail-biting day which went right down to the wire and ended in Peretz abandoning Otzma, but dumping Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev off the list, and resulting in recriminations from many sides.
Once the rawness and rancor over these Machiavellian machinations had subsided, the re-formed Yamina Party set about trying to paper over its differences on social and religious issues, and emphasize its shared devotion to the cause of Greater Israel and the annexation of as many settlements and as much territory as possible.
This goal was given an ostensible boost in January, when US President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited peace plan which allows for unilateral Israel annexation of some territories in the West Bank.
From initial joy, and the apparent validation of Bennett’s long term advocacy for settlement annexation, Yamina Party leaders' ecstasy soon turned sour as the Trump administration made clear that such annexation could not take place till a government is formed.
For most of the rest of February, Yamina campaigned strongly for the immediate annexation of at least some settlements, efforts which were ultimately in vain and did nothing to increase its electoral traction, with the party stuck on seven or eight seats in most polls.
Party leaders such as Bennett and Ayelet Shaked have repeatedly argued that Yamina remains the only party that formally opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, and have persisted with the message that only a large Yamina will stop a unity government between the Likud and Blue and White which will supposedly drag the country leftward.
And Bennett has noticeably adopted a far more sectoral stance than his earlier messaging on uniting the right-wing across the religious spectrum from secular to religious.
Instead, Bennett has gone about lamenting the efforts of other parties to siphon off Yamina’s voters, asserting that other parties were trying to do down the political representation of the religious-Zionist sector, and take advantage of its votes without listening to its demands and requirements.
This message has seemingly shored up the party’s base and prevented any further erosion of its voters towards the Likud, something which the religious-Zionist parties have long had to contend with.
Over the last three election campaigns, Netanyahu has consistently sought to instill fear amongst the religious-Zionist community that if the Likud is not the largest party then political dominance over government of the right-wing, and the control over the settlements in particular which is so dear to it, could crumble altogether.
It is this message which Bennett, Shaked and the other leaders have struggled so hard against.
Yamina has also had to contend with efforts by Blue and White to attract some of Bennett’s more liberal followers, but this campaign by Gantz’s party has been maladroit to say the least and it has had little impact in the polls.
The perceived outcome for Yamina lies in fine margins. If it secures eight seats, one more than it currently has, it will be seen as a good result, if it drops a seat, as is possible with a final “gevalt” push by Netanyahu, then it will be seen as an especially bad day, while remaining static on seven will be a reasonable if slightly less than satisfactory outcome.
Either way, Yamina has very few options for joining a government other than if there is a majority on the right-wing without Yisrael Beytenu.
Bennett has repeatedly ruled out sitting with Blue and White, describing the party as having “left-wing DNA,” while the religious hardliners from Bayit Yehudi and National Union would have nothing to do with the social liberals of Gantz’s party.
Although there has been some talk about the possibility Bennett’s New Right faction might defect to Blue and White in order to form a government, the electoral map as it stands on the eve of the elections makes this option a flight of fancy.