Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu issued a public call on Tuesday for a unity deal between Itamar Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party and Betzalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party.
Netanyahu’s pointed statement was welcomed by Smotrich, who said the pair are still working on a deal, but shrugged off by Ben Gvir, who accused his erstwhile political partner of dragging his heels.
Smotrich and Ben Gvir, who both chair right-wing parties, ran on a shared ticket in the 2021 elections. But their negotiations to once again submit a joint electoral list in November’s election collapsed last week, with Ben Gvir accusing Smotrich of negotiating in “bad faith” and refusing to make any concessions.
In a video message posted on social media, Netanyahu pleaded with Smotrich and Ben Gvir to resurrect their alliance — echoing similar efforts he made in 2019 and 2021.
“For all of us there is one mission — to establish a strong and stable national government for the coming four years. But before we can do that, we need one thing: to unite the forces and not to spread them out,” the opposition leader said.
“Therefore, I call on the Religious Zionist party and Otzma Yehudit to run together in the elections. We can’t take the risk. Only running together will ensure that these parties will pass the electoral threshold with certainty,” he added.
The Likud leader is concerned that if the parties split, one of them could fall under the 3.25% electoral threshold, potentially wasting votes that would otherwise go to the right-wing bloc loyal to Netanyahu.
“Only running together will guarantee a government without the Joint List,” Netanyahu stated, referring to the coalition of mostly Arab parties.
In response, Smotrich tweeted that he “agreed” with Netanyahu’s request, asking Ben Gvir to “sit down tomorrow with the real goal of advancing a joint run for the sake of a right-wing victory in the elections.”
Ben Gvir struck a less hopeful tone, complaining he spent a month and a half “pursuing” Smotrich for the purpose of achieving a unity deal. Ben Gvir also accused Smotrich of avoiding him by canceling meetings, and favoring an alliance with former Yamina MK Amichai Chikli. “We tried every way until we understood there is no partner,” Ben Gvir said.
Ben Gvir was referring to a Kan report from Tuesday claiming that Smotrich is in talks to run together with Chikli, the renegade lawmaker who was a key player in bringing down Naftali Bennett’s government in June.
The report suggested there may be an announcement in the coming days, with Chikli expected to receive three seats in Religious Zionism’s top 10.
Otzma Yehudit ran together with the Religious Zionist party in last year’s election, in a deal brokered by Netanyahu, who agreed to slate Religious Zionist candidate Ofir Sofer in Likud’s 28th slot as part of the agreement.
The combined list — which also included the extremist right-wing Noam party — received six seats in the previous Knesset. Recent polls have predicted the alliance could receive 9-11 seats in the November 1 election. Noam is not expected to join with Smotrich in this year’s vote.
In 2019, Netanyahu brokered a similar deal between Smotrich and Rafi Peretz to join with Ben Gvir and form the short-lived Union of Right-Wing Parties, a predecessor to the Religious Zionism party.
The move prompted a wave of backlash, with widespread accusations against Netanyahu that he was importing right-wing extremists into the Knesset. Criticism of the move flooded in, even from traditional allies such as pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which rarely criticizes Israeli politicians.