Ayelet Shaked’s New Right merges with URWP after marathon talks

Joint slate, to be called United Right, will recommend Netanyahu form next coalition, but excludes far-right Otzma Yehudit, leaving Likud fuming over prospect of wasted votes

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

(L-R) Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Bezalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz announcing a merger between religious right-wing parties, to be called United Right, July 29, 2019. (Courtesy)
(L-R) Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Bezalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz announcing a merger between religious right-wing parties, to be called United Right, July 29, 2019. (Courtesy)

A pair of religious, right-wing parties on Monday announced they had successfully closed a deal to merge into a single electoral slate, led by former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, ahead of the upcoming September elections.

The move was condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party because the alliance does not include several other right and far-right parties.

The joint slate made up of the New Right and Union of Right-Wing Parties will be called United Right. It will see Shaked and former education minister Naftali Bennett run alongside the Jewish Home and National Union factions that form URWP. The two former ministers bolted the Jewish Home last December to set up the New Right, which championed “secular-religious partnership” but failed to cross the electoral threshold in the April elections, while URWP won five seats.

“We have united the right-wing parties into a joint slate, ensuring that crucial votes are not wasted,” Shaked said in a statement.

The New Right chairwoman will be followed on the united list by URWP head Rafi Peretz, with his deputy, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, placed third. Naftali Bennett, who formerly led the Jewish Home and subsequently the New Right, received the fourth spot. In all, the New Right candidates will be given four of the list’s first ten spots.

1. Ayelet Shaked (New Right)
2. Rafi Peretz (URWP-Jewish Home)
3. Bezalel Smotrich (URWP-National Union)
4. Naftali Bennett (New Right)
5. Moti Yogev (URWP-Jewish Home)
6. Ofir Sofer (URWP-National Union)
7. Matan Kahana (New Right)
8. Idit Silman (URWP-Jewish Home)
9. Roni Sassover (New Right)
10. Orit Strock (URWP-National Union)

In a joint statement announcing the merger, New Right and URWP said they would recommend to the president that Netanyahu form the next coalition after the elections, a stance that marked a concession by New Right’s Shaked and Bennett, who had balked at the commitment in recent weeks but ultimately agreed to the URWP demand.

Shaked said she would continue to work to include other right-wing parties, namely the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Moshe Feiglin’s quasi-libertarian Zehut, on the joint list ahead of a Thursday party registration deadline.

The merger will not, at this stage, include spots for Otzma Yehudit, which ran with URWP in the last election at Netanyahu’s behest, but walked away from the alliance last month, claiming that the terms of their merger had been violated by the alliance’s leader Peretz.

New Right chairwoman Ayelet Shaked (L) and party No 2. Naftali Bennett speak to reporters in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Ellison/Flash90)

The joint announcement said that United Right will demand Likud reserve spots on its list for Otzma Yehudit. In the previous election, Netanyahu’s party agreed to place one URWP MK on its slate, after the right-wing party absorbed the self-described disciples of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.

But Likud released its own statement less than an hour later, clarifying that it would not be making room for anyone else on its list, having merged with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party last month.

Rafi Peretz (R) and Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, at a campaign event in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A spokesman for the Likud party released a statement blasting the merger as “a fake union” due to its failure to bring all right-wing parties under one umbrella.

“If this is the end of the merging process on the right while all the Arab parties have united, the right-wing bloc will be at risk. Bennett, Shaked, and Smotrich intentionally left out 5-6 mandates on the right — and they are knowingly jeopardizing the continuation of a right-wing government. It’s not too late to fix this dangerous mistake,” the Likud statement read, suggesting that Otzma Yehudit, the Zehut party and the anti-LGBT Noam party are together worth roughly four to five percent of the vote (180,000-216,000 votes).

Similarly frustrated by the New Right-URWP merger was Otzma Yehudit, which issued its own statement, claiming that negotiations between the two parties had stalled for weeks over issues of “ego” rather than substance.

Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir (R) speaks with National Union faction leader Betzalel Smotrich during a campaign event in Bat Yam, April 6, 2019. (Flash90)

The far-right faction said it was moving forward with its merger with the fringe Noam party, a similarly ultra-nationalist, religious faction that has made combating LGBT acceptance the focus of its fledgling campaign.

Concerned that a New Right-URWP merger would take away votes from Likud, Netanyahu and his wife Sara had worked aggressively against the merger. Michal Peretz, the wife of the URWP leader, was in recent weeks coordinating with the prime minister’s wife to prevent Shaked from taking the top spot on a joint electoral ticket, Channel 12 revealed on Sunday.

Both Shaked and Smotrich said they would continue to work up to Thursday’s deadline to fold Otzma Yehudit and Zehut into United Right.

Blue and White slammed the “extremist” union’s architects in a statement, protesting that the constituent parties were willing to recommend Netanyahu form the next coalition, despite the looming criminal charges against the premier, simply in order to receive posts in his government.

The party also expressed disappointment in Shaked and Bennett’s willingness to team up with “extremists who are undermining the rule of law and who have given a hand to Netanyahu’s immunity.”

Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh tweeted that the “real deal” reached by New Right and URWP was to grant Netanyahu immunity in exchange for West Bank annexation.

The United Right merger comes at the peak of the year’s second election campaign, which has already seen a number of other such agreements across the political spectrum. The Palestinian nationalist Balad party announced Sunday night that it would join forces with three other Arab Israeli parties, reassembling the Joint List that broke apart ahead of last election. Last week, the left-wing Meretz faction and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic party merged to become the Democratic Camp.

Shaked is poised to become the sole female party leader in the upcoming vote.

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