NRP leader tries to revive flagging negotiations to allow option for joint list.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
In hopes of reviving flagging negotiations, National Religious Party leader Zevulun Orlev pled Wednesday with National Union MKs to put aside past differences and agree on principles that would allow both parties to run on a joint list for the next Knesset.
While the Knesset factions of both parties had informally agreed to a joint list, talks between them had broken down over the past few days.
"Only a large united political power of religious and traditional Zionists can be a relevant influence in the 17th Knesset," said Orlev. Voters in both parties would never forgive their leaders if they did not create such an opportunity.
He later told The Jerusalem Post that it was his first visit to the National Union faction in a long time.
While both parties were united in their opposition to disengagement, they differed sharply in their tactics. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon kicked the National Union out of his coalition in June 2004 after it refused to support the disengagement plan. The NRP stayed in the coalition until November that year, leaving only after failing to gain support for a national referendum on the matter.
Feelings ran particularly high when its former party leader MK Effi Eitam and MK Yitzhak Levy left the NRP in February 2005 and eventually joined the National Union.
Orlev said, "I told them that this is the moment to put aside all the anger and accusations from the past. We have an obligation to move forward now without fighting and divisions. Such fighting is harming both parties and causing the public to lose faith in us."
The two parties are divided on issues of how to pick a leader for the joint faction and how many MKs from each party would be on the joint list.
Additionally, the NRP wants to prioritize issues of education, Jewish identity and social justice over issues relating to the settlements in Judea and Samaria.
It is asking the National Union not to rule out the option of joining the next coalition government. It is also asking that both parties push the government to hold a national referendum before relinquishing any more territory in Judea and Samaria.
At press time, the National Union faction was meeting to craft a response to Orlev's plea.
But within the NRP's Executive Committee, feelings were mixed as to whether or not a joint list was the right move.
"We don't have a choice," said Shmaryahu Ben Zur, who is also the Central Committee chairman.
"We have to be a big party," said Yaffa Peretz, who is also hoping to run for a Knesset seat. The next government will be made up of large blocs, so a large opposition is needed to counter them.
Following the next elections, parties will be more clearly split into three camps; left, right and center. The NRP has to be a large part of that right-wing camp. If it is not large, it will not be able to promote its agenda.
"The NRP has to be a big house for all the religious people," said Peretz.
But Yair Reinman, who directs the Religious Kibbutz Movement, said he did not believe that joining forces was a good idea. "It could be that there is no choice, but I would prefer not to do it," he said, noting that the NRP's agenda is different from that of the National Union. It is even possible that it could backfire and voters who would have otherwise supported the NRP might cast their votes elsewhere, he said.
Yehudit Hibner, 85, who has been an NRP member since arriving in Israel in 1939, said she opposed the move.
"I'm not voting for a majority, I'm voting for a set of ideals," she said.
It is always good to be larger, but until now, the NRP has chosen to try and enlarge the party while maintaining its unique integrity. "What has changed?" she asked.
"Not all their interests are my interests," Hibner said, the chief of which is the NRP commitment to fighting for religious rights. "The Jewish state can not exist without religion," she said.