Right-wing parties reunite

Late last night, party lists were finalised for the election for Israel’s 23rd Knesset, which will take place on March 2.

In an update to yesterday’s blog, let me note some last-minute surprises and developments.

At the proverbial eleventh hour yesterday (January 15), New Right party leader Naftali Bennett and Jewish Home party leader Rafi Peretz came to terms, with a deal that would essentially unite the parties right of Likud. As I wrote yesterday, a deal in the early morning hours of that day saw Betzalel Smotrich of the hard right-religious National Union party join forces with the New Right, leaving Jewish Home, in a very weak position running alone with Itamar Ben-Gvir’s extreme-right Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudi) party.

Bennett, who was willing to make a deal with Peretz but absolutely unyielding in his demand not to include Jewish Power in the right-wing merger, won the day, forcing Jewish Home to tear up its previous agreement with Jewish Power in order to run together with Bennett and Smotrich and ensure the survival of the political descendant of the historic National Religious Party.

What this all means is that the Yamina party comprised of New Right, Jewish Home and National Union, which ran together and won seven seats in the last national election on September 17, has reconstituted itself. While it’s as yet unclear whether they will stick with that name, I’ll continue to refer to the merged party as Yamina for clarity here.

What has changed is Yamina’s leadership and party list. The new Yamina party list is as follows, with the candidate’s previous placement on Yamina’s list at the last election, if changed, in parenthesis:

  1. Naftali Bennett (4)
  2. Rafi Peretz
  3. Ayelet Shaked (1)
  4. Bezalel Smotrich (3)
  5. Matan Kahana (7)
  6. Ofir Sofer
  7. Idit Salman (8)
  8. Sarah Beck (NEW)
  9. Shirley Pinto (15)
  10. Orit Strook

Ayelet Shaked, who led Yamina into September’s election, has been bumped down to #2 in the New Right faction and #3 on the merged list, with Defence Minister Naftali Bennett leapfrogging from fourth place right to the leadership role. Other winners in the new configuration are New Right’s Matan Kahana, a former IAF squadron commander, and Shirley Pinto, a deaf activist who has shot up to the realistically hopeful spot of ninth on the list from the unrealistic 15th spot in September. Journalist Sarah Beck is a wildcard, being invited to run for the first time as part of the Jewish Home party. Meanwhile, Jewish Home’s veteran MK Moti Yogev, who entered the 22nd Knesset as fifth on the Yamina list, reportedly has acrimoniously quit politics after being demoted to the unrealistic 11th spot.

Elsewhere, beyond the major changes at Yamina, and the significant changes to the Labor-Meretz list discussed in my previous blog, the rest of the parties from the current Knesset are running with virtually unchanged lists, with the following exceptions:

Blue and White MK Gadi Yevarkan has defected to Likud and been given the 20th spot. Everyone else at the Likud below the third spot until the 20th spot have moved up one seat as a result of Moshe Kahlon’s decision to retire from politics. Meanwhile, at Blue and White, former journalist Andre Kushnov replaces Yevarkan in the 33rd spot on their list, which is otherwise unchanged.

The Joint List, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Yisrael Beitenu all submitted party slates that were unchanged from the last election.

In terms of composition of party lists, all the adjustments we have seen are in practical terms superficial. The merger of Labor and Meretz is the most significant of the changes, yet polls at this time suggest that merger will bring in few new votes for those parties compared to their September results.

This bodes poorly for seeing a different or more conclusive electoral outcome in March, with neither the right nor left parties or blocs expected to reach the 61-seat margin necessary to form a coalition on their own.

Photo: New Right party leader Naftali Bennett and Jewish Home party leader Rafi Peretz.