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Ben Gvir threatens to run solo if Smotrich keeps ignoring him

Poll shows Religious Zionism would be strengthened under leadership of Kahanist Ben Gvir, who says he’s willing to compromise for sake of ‘unity’

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir, left, speaks during a press conference ahead of the upcoming elections, in Jerusalem, July 11, 2022; MK Bezalel Smotrich, right, leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Itamar Ben Gvir, left, speaks during a press conference ahead of the upcoming elections, in Jerusalem, July 11, 2022; MK Bezalel Smotrich, right, leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The head of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, MK Itamar Ben Gvir, said Monday that despite his seemingly growing support in polls, he would still be willing to let far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich lead a united slate in the upcoming elections, while suggesting that the longer negotiations are stalled, the greater the likelihood of the two parties running separately.

In an interview with Kan public radio, Ben Gvir said he called Smotrich after the latter accused him of “running to the studios” rather than “picking up the phone” to start negotiating, but indicated that the call was unproductive.

“One side was saying let’s meet and the other side apparently doesn’t want to meet,” Ben Gvir said of the 15-minute phone call between the two.

While not explicitly saying Smotrich was avoiding meeting him, Ben Gvir intimated that the fact the two haven’t yet met was related to the recent polls showing his own growing support.

A poll released Sunday by Channel 13 showed that led by Ben Gvir, the Religious Zionism party would receive 13 seats, compared to only 10 if led by current party leader Smotrich.

Still, Ben Gvir said he would be willing to “give up the first slot [in a combined slate] in favor of Smotrich.”

Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich, left, and Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party at an election campaign tour at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on March 19, 2021, four days before the general election. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“These polls don’t confuse me,” he added. “I might deserve it, all polls are showing a very clear trajectory regarding my [political] strength, but I want to unite because I want to beat the left.”

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “even sitting in the same room right now doesn’t seem to be happening. Every moment that we fail to do so hurts the State of Israel,” he added.

Responding, Smotrich told Army Radio that Ben Gvir’s “media campaign” was “not clear” to him.

“It hurts me to see it. Mudslinging distances voters from us,” he said.

Last week, Ben Gvir suggested that independent research should be conducted to determine how many slots each party would get in a united list and their placement.

Ben Gvir is hoping that partnering with Smotrich now, rather than after the Religious Zionism party holds its primaries, will give him a better chance of guaranteeing desired slots in a future government.

The negotiations between Ben Gvir, Smotrich and the heads of other potential partner factions are shaping up to be more challenging than before, with both Ben Gvir and Smotrich confident about their base and their prospects of crossing the threshold required to enter the Knesset, even if they decide to run separately.

Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit faction partnered with the Religious Zionism party along with the anti-LGBT party Noam to gain six seats and enter the Israeli parliament in 2021, in a move orchestrated by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

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