Divided national-religious camp loses strength

Habayit Hayehudi objects to NU's Ben-Ari, a supporter of Kahane.

Prof. Danny Hershkovitz 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prof. Danny Hershkovitz 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A divided national-religious camp lost nearly a quarter of its parliamentary strength in Tuesday's election, according to near-final election results, while moves to restore unity would not necessarily succeed, party officials said Wednesday. The nationalist National Union garnered four mandates, while Habayit Hayehudi (the former National Religious Party) won three. The tentative results, which have the national-religious camp dropping from nine seats in the last Knesset, when they ran on a joint list, are pending the final tallying of the double-envelope votes - from soldiers, sailors, diplomats, emissaries, the handicapped, hospital patients, prisoners - as well as the calculation of surplus vote agreements, which could still slightly alter the final outcome. For months, public opinion polls showed that the national-religious camp - whose voters were wooed not only among the two sectoral parties but also by the Likud, Shas and even the secular Israel Beiteinu - would have to work hard to maintain its nine seats in the Knesset. While both parties support Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu for prime minister, the National Union is dead set against joining a coalition led by Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, while the head of the more centrist Habayit Hayehudi, Prof. Daniel Hershkovitz, said on Wednesday that he would not rule that out. Meanwhile, the National Union's "Anglo" candidate, American-born Uri Bank, who is No. 5 on its candidates list, is on the cusp of entering the legislature since the party's leader, Arutz 7 founder Ya'acov Katz, is to resign his Knesset seat if the party enters a Netanyahu-led government. The National Union's three other parliamentarians will be veteran lawmakers Uri Ariel and Arye Eldad, and Michael Ben-Ari, while Habayit Hayehudi will see the longtime NRP legislator Zevulun Orlev and former Yediot Aharonot columnist Uri Orbach entering the Knesset. Although both parties have bemoaned the very public falling out they had ahead of the elections during a failed attempt at a merger, Habayit Hayehudi is not rushing into an agreement to function as a joint Knesset faction with National Union, public statements by the parties leaders notwithstanding. Habayit Hayehudi spokesman Moshe Inbar said Wednesday that while the party was not rejecting any unity proposal out of hand, they had a problem with Ben-Ari, who is a supporter of the far-right Kahane movement. A National Union official countered that while unity talks had not yet begun, "people will do many things to survive politically.