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2020 Knesset elections

Bennett says election delivers victory for ‘annexation government’

Yamina chairman claims right-wing has won vote after exit polls show gains for Likud, vows national religious alliance will remain united after election

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett gives a victory speech to supporters in Kfar Maccabiah after exit polls are released on March 2, 2020. (Flash90)
Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett gives a victory speech to supporters in Kfar Maccabiah after exit polls are released on March 2, 2020. (Flash90)

Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett gave what for all intents and purposes was a victory speech on Monday night after exit polls indicated that his national religious party managed largely to maintain its presence in the Knesset, while the right-wing, religious bloc was on the verge of being able to form a coalition.

“The right-wing camp has won and [Yamina] will ensure that the path of the right-wing will win as well,” Bennett told dozens of supporters at the party headquarters in the central town of Kfar Maccabiah. The defense minister’s party campaigned aggressively on the notion that its presence in the government is crucial if Israelis really want Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to follow through on his promises to right-wing voters, particularly West Bank annexation.

“With God’s help today, the Israeli sovereignty [over the West Bank] government has been established,” Bennett declared.

Yamina received seven seats, according to initial exit polls from Channel 12 and the Kan public broadcaster and six seats, according to Channel 13. All three stations had the right-wing, religious bloc of Likud, Yamina, United Torah Judaism and Shas earning 60 seats — one shy of an ability tot form a 61-MK majority coalition without having to even reach across the aisle.

Revised projections from all three outlets based on early results dropped Yamina down to six seats.

Yamina lawmakers wave to supporters in Kfar Maccabiah after exit polls are released on March 2, 2020. (Flash90)

Bennett said he had received a phone call from Netanyahu shortly after the exit polls were released at 10 p.m. and that the two congratulated one another before vowing to continue their cooperation toward building a stable, right-wing government.

He said the Yamina alliance, made up of Jewish Home, National Union and his own New Right, would stick together. The party had broken up into its constituent factions after the September vote, as Bennett and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked sought to appeal to more moderate and secular right-wingers, while Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz and National Union head Bezalel Smotrich continued to represent more hardline religious Zionist voters.

Fearing that divided they would not cross the electoral threshold, the three parties eventually reunited in the final hours before the January filing deadline, but not before a great deal of bad blood was shed between them.

The re-alliance only came about after Peretz reneged on a merger with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, after Bennett refused to include the latter in his slate. Peretz had inked the deal in an effort to one-up the more popular Smotrich, who he was hoping would agree to subsequently become his deputy. Instead, the National Union leader reached a merger with Bennett, leading Peretz to join, leaving Otzma Yehudit on its own.

Exit polls on Monday unanimously showed that the far-right party had failed to cross the electoral threshold.

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