Extremist Otzma Yehudit still seeking merger with United Right as deadline nears

Itamar Ben Gvir says Ayelet Shaked under pressure to exclude his far-right party from electoral alliance, but joint run ‘still possible’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Yamina head Ayelet Shaked (L) and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir. (Flash90)
Yamina head Ayelet Shaked (L) and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir. (Flash90)

The far-right Otzma Yehudit party said Thursday it was still hoping to broker a deal to join the United Right union of right-wing parties before the 10 p.m. deadline to submit their slates for September’s election.

Despite having been thus far left out of the alliance made up of the Union of Right-Wing Parties and the New Right party, Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben Gvir said there was still a possibility that they would join, even with just hours left to finalize the party list.

“Ayelet Shaked really wants me in the union,” Ben Gvir said of the United Right leader in an interview with Channel 12 news. “But someone is pressuring her to keep me out.”

Ben Gvir said he believed it was “still possible to come to an agreement, if they start to take us seriously.”

Otzma Yehudit ran in the April elections as part of the URWP alliance brokered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but split off afterward over what it said was newly elected leader Rafi Peretz’s failure to honor the terms of their electoral pact.

The extremist party has since held talks to again team up with URWP, and current United Right leader Shaked said earlier this week she would continue to work to bring it into the fold, though the sides have been at odds over which spot on the list Ben Gvir would receive.

Otzma Yehudit party members Michael Ben Ari (R), Itamar Ben Gvir (2-R) and Baruch Marzel (L) attend a campaign event in Bat Yam with Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties on April 6, 2019. (Flash90)

Late Wednesday, the United Right publicly called for Otzma Yehudit to accept the number 8 and 13 spots on the list, saying the offer was “a very fair proposal that guarantees you the representation of two members in the next Knesset.”

Ben Gvir responded on Thursday by saying that his party deserved a better offer and “has already put forward far-reaching compromises, but some in the United Right appear to prefer their ego over the good of the right-wing government.”

The Central Elections Committee opened its doors on Wednesday for parties jostling for the Knesset’s 120 seats to register their rosters ahead of the September 17 elections. With over 40 parties in total having taken registration forms, nine had filed by Wednesday afternoon, setting up a potentially busy day on Thursday before the final deadline. Of parties with any realistic chance of entering the Knesset, only Zehut and Yisrael Beytenu had filed by the end of the first day.

With the Thursday night deadline approaching fast, Netanyahu has been pressing for United Right to take in Otzma Yehudit, saying right-wing votes would be wasted if the latter fails to enter the Knesset.

Noam party highway billboards outside Tel Aviv that read “Israel chooses to be normal.” (Courtesy)

United Right rebuffed his efforts and instead called for the prime minister’s Likud party to reserve a spot for Ben Gvir. Likud has refused.

In a bid to pressure the United Right, Otzma Yehudit and the anti-LGBT Noam party announced late Wednesday that they reached an agreement to run together in the upcoming elections, if no other merger is agreed upon.

Submitting its final slate of candidates early Wednesday, the Zehut party put to bed the idea of its own potential link-up with the United Right, opting to run on its own again despite having failed to cross the electoral threshold in April’s election.

Shortly after Zehut, representatives from Yisrael Beytenu party filed its slate, vowing, as leader Avigdor Liberman had done the night before, to force a national unity government between Likud and the centrist Blue and White party.

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 rest of the major parties, as well as a handful of less-known smaller factions that often run as protests, are expected to hand in their slates on Thursday.

Also on Wednesday night, Labor’s central committee approved the party’s merger with Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher, days after the two factions announced that they would join together.

It also approved a clause which stipulated no further mergers would take place, burying any hopes that Labor would join with the newly formed Democratic Camp — in itself a product of a union of Meretz, Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and breakaway Labor MK Stav Shaffir.

The Democratic Camp said it would arrive at the Knesset to present its slate at 6:30 p.m.

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