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Despite union, Zionist Spirit leaders still split over cooperation with Netanyahu

Hendel says former PM needs to be ‘pensioned off, sitting in Hawaii drinking a shake,’ while Shaked says there is no unity government without Likud under Netanyahu

Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) and Yoaz Hendel (Derech Eretz) merge their parties to form the Zionist Spirit party, July 27, 2022. (Ariel Zandberg)
Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) and Yoaz Hendel (Derech Eretz) merge their parties to form the Zionist Spirit party, July 27, 2022. (Ariel Zandberg)

Despite the union of Ayelet Shaked’s Yamina and Yoaz Hendel’s Derech Eretz into the Zionist Spirit, the new party’s two leaders still appear split over the key question of cooperating with the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu after the upcoming elections.

Shaked and Hendel delayed their unification until Wednesday while hammering out details regarding whether to ally with the Likud leader and where to slot each other’s allies in the party’s list.

But despite their reported agreement, they were still putting forward very different takes on Friday.

Speaking to Channel 12, Hendel reiterated the party line that it wants a broad coalition.

“We are against a narrow government and against [new] elections. Only a wide unity government will do and the more seats we have the greater our ability to impose that solution,” Hendel said.

However, he again indicated he would only sit with Likud without Netanyahu.

“Netanyahu is the problem, not the solution. If it were up to me, Netanyahu would be pensioned off, sitting in Hawaii drinking a shake,” Hendel said.

Shaked disagreed.

In excerpts from an interview with the Kan public broadcaster that aired Friday, Shaked said there could not be a unity government without Likud under Netanyahu.

“Anyone who speaks about a unity government without Likud, is selling lies. You can’t come and delegitimize the votes of more than a million Likud voters and delegitimize their choice [of leader],” Shaked said. “It’s just not democratic.”

Likud party head Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media at the Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 26, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Shaked said it would be up to Likud to choose who would be prime minister in a unity government, even if the choice was Netanyahu.

“Those on the center-left who speak about a unity government without Likud and Netanyahu are throwing sand in the eyes of the public because Netanyahu is the leader of the Likud,” she said.

Shaked said she had agreed together with Hendel that they would not boycott anyone.

Shaked and Hendel told voters on Wednesday night that the new party’s aspiration is to end “polarization” and narrow coalitions resting on “extremists” by building a broad, Zionist government with both Likud party and the center-left.

Hendel comes to the alliance with lawmaker Zvi Hauser, after the two were left out of a merger between their former partner New Hope and Blue and White. Shaked inherited a shell of a party hollowed out by a year of internal struggles that culminated with former prime minister Naftali Bennett stepping away from politics. Neither faction has much of a base and Zionist Spirit may struggle to compete in a crowded field of fellow right-leaning parties.

A poll published by Channel 12 news Thursday night showed the party eking out four seats, though surveys directly after a major announcement or event can often be skewed by the buzz. According to that survey, Zionist Spirit would win four seats and, if joining the Netanyahu bloc, would lift it to a narrow-majority 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset.

Whereas Yamina won seven seats in the March 2021 election, support for the party has plummeted, with Likud, Religious Zionism, and Blue and White predicted to pick up most of their fleeing voters.

If Zionist Spirit breaks toward or away from Netanyahu, it could lose essential support from voters casting ballots based on a party’s likelihood of cooperating with Likud.

Their solution – as announced by Hendel on Wednesday – attempted to thread the needle by saying that Zionist Spirit is aiming to sit with everyone, placing the onus on Likud and the center-left to agree to an improbable coalition.

Anti-Netanyahu parties have warned that if Netanyahu were to win, he could alter the legal system such that he could escape his ongoing corruption trial. His party has sought to give the Knesset more control of Supreme Court appointments (a move also supported by Shaked and others on the right for reasons unrelated to the Likud leader) and has threatened to swap out the attorney general.

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report

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