One development that was expected in this election campaign was the joining of forces between the National Religious Party and the National Union
. Since both parties left the government in protest over the disengagement plan, and except for Arye Eldad
, all of the National Union MKs are religious, the move seemed almost natural.
What's more, polls showed that the two parties running together would gain more votes than they would separately. But many weeks have passed and the negotiations are stuck.
On the face of it, the logjam is due to standard disputes over who gets which spot on the joint list and the drawing up of a common manifesto. However, it turns out there is another reason the parties' leaders are trying to hide.
The polls, which previously showed a united party gaining more votes, are suddenly painting a different picture and are predicting that fewer voters might be in favor of unity. The reasons are not yet clear, but since the shift began soon after Ariel Sharon
founded his breakaway Kadima party
, there is some speculation that the defectors are moderate religious voters who were uncomfortable with the NRP
joining what they see as a far-right party. According to that view, when Sharon offered them an option that isn't really Right or Left, they jumped.
Now there are second thoughts, especially among National Union activists who are encouraged by polls showing their party receiving twice as many mandates as the NRP.
Still, most insiders in both parties believe they will run together. One reason is that most of the religious politicians live within tight-knit communities where support for political unity is high.
Each party also has a clear interest in the alliance. The NRP, according to most recent polls, is perilously close to the electoral threshold (which has been raised to two percent) and runs the risk of being unrepresented.
The National Union is in no such danger, but it desires the respectability a merger with a party that traces its origins back to 1902 and has participated in every Knesset
can bring to a party that is still seen by many as fanatical.
Some National Union voters also feel responsible for the party they and their parents supported for decades and don't want to be blamed for the NRP's demise.
Anshel Pfeffer's elections commentary will appear frequently in these pages in the run-up to polling day. It can also be found at blogcentral.jpost.com.