1. Right turns: After two rounds of elections, the closing of party slates the third time around was expected to be as exciting as this tweet makes it seem. But there is some drama thanks to a supposedly done deal merging National Union with Jewish Home-Otzma Yehudit (again) seemingly falling apart at the last second.
- The point of contention was whether the parties would form a single central committee or keep their separate steering panels intact, reports ToI’s Jacob Magid: “The National Union claimed that as its negotiators were preparing to sign the final agreement with their Jewish Home counterparts at the home of prominent national religious rabbi Chaim Druckman, the latter party asked that the clause regarding a fused central committee be renegotiated.”
- “Running separate is an insane gamble,” one of Peretz’s advisers tells Army Radio. National Union head Bezalel “Smotrich is acting like a whale that lost its sense of direction and is swimming swiftly toward the shore.”
- But Smotrich at least, seemingly does not have to worry, with New Right announcing that it will bring him under its wing instead, a day after it announced it was no longer entertaining merger offers.
- A statement from the party says that “the door is being left open” for Jewish Home to join as well.
2. Doing the math: The merger mayhem comes as a poll by Channel 12 Monday night predicted a joint Jewish Home-NU-Otzma party would receive five seats and New Right running alone would get six.
- The poll finds that all four factions running together would get 10 seats, but does not account for the possibility of a New Right-NU merger or Jewish Home running with only Otzma. However, most see Jewish Home-Otzma in serious danger of falling below the threshold.
- The poll also finds the right- and left-wing blocs still unable to reach 61 seats without Yisrael Beytenu.
- In Israel Hayom, columnist Amnon Lord makes a plea for right-wing unity between all the parties that aren’t Likud, predicting doom and gloom if they don’t achieve it. “The right has only one option: Winning 61 seats. Any result under that will mean another tie, or a [Benny] Gantz government that will connect some branch of the right to the post-Zionist patchwork of the left.”
- Any chance of bringing Jewish Home into the New Right fold, though, will mean jettisoning Otzma (essentially re-creating Yamina from the last election.)
- The New Right statement welcoming talks with Jewish Home does not mention the extremists from Otzma, whom New Right head Naftali Bennett has said he will not ally with.
- “Bennett is concerned that [Otzma leader Itamar] Ben Gvir’s presence on a broad right-wing slate would alienate voters and taint his own political career,” reports Haaretz.
3. Leaving in droves: The Channel 12 poll, which should be taken with a whole salt shaker, also shows no major boost for the center-left bloc in the wake of the merger between Labor-Gesher and Meretz.
- Many are unhappy about the merger, but few seem to be as angry as Meretz’s Issawi Frej, who was shunted to the 11th seat (likely too low to get in) in favor of former general Yair Golan, who gets the seventh seat.
- On Tuesday, Frej goes as far as petitioning the High Court against the merger.
- He tells Channel 12 news that it will lead to Arab voters going to the Joint List instead.
- “If there was an Arab in the seventh spot instead of Golan, the slate would get another two seats,” he is quoted telling Yedioth Ahronoth.
- Haaretz reports that others are also angry and are “seeing downgraded representation as a slap in their faces,” with some mulling the creation of a a new joint Arab-Jewish slate.
4. Blue and White wins: Aside from bickering over seats, Yedioth also notes that Labor is now worried because it means Blue and White can campaign against it without worrying about the potential partners falling beneath the threshold.
- Blue and White is also happy because it will make it easier for Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman to join the center-left coalition after elections, Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker says. In the past, Liberman may have been hard-pressed to sell allying with far left Meretz to his right-wing base, but now that Meretz is just a small part of a Labor amalgamation, that won’t be quite as difficult.
- Also happy is Labor MK Itzik Shmuli. In Zman Yisrael, Shalom Yerushalmi writes that the arranged marriage is a product of Shmuli’s heavy-handed matchmaking skills: “Over the last week, Shmuli enlisted whatever he could to force [party leader Amir] Peretz to unite with with Meretz. Businesspeople on the left published big ads and billboards, former MKs wrote strongly worded op-eds and activists tweeted and put pressure on the party leader.”
- “Peretz went to his meeting with Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz with his feet bound, to discuss places on the list for a list connecting a party that founded the state and led it for decades and a leftist faction that has hovered for years around the threshold,” he writes.
5. All that’s left: Yedioth Ahronoth calls the merger “of historic significance,” but it’s not necessarily a good thing.
- “For the first time, there will be only one party on the left,” noting that nobody is really happy about the forced marriage, but they didn’t have much of a choice.
- Ravit Hecht in Haaretz sees the merger as a symbol of the downfall of the left in recent years and how it’s been forced to shift its focus away from its commitment to a peace deal in order to remain relevant.
- “To avoid appearing crazy or, even worse, traitorous, the supporters have put aside their hope that one day Israel would have clearly defined borders and no longer be an occupier controlling a civilian population,” she writes.
- “The energy has shifted to issues with better optics, such as LGBTQ rights, separation of religion and state and the rule of law. The left-wingers are flocking to parties that blur their foreign policy platforms to as great an extent possible. Kahol Lavan, which is home to both leftists and rightists, all of whom dislike Netanyahu, provides a refreshing, simple and convenient solution for this electorate – certainly more so than parties with complex party institutions that have become tainted by failure and irrelevance.”
- It may have some competition for left-wing votes as well from the Liberal and Financial Freedom Party, one of several tiny parties that will also be trying to win votes in March.. The Cannabis weed news website reports that Amos Silver, the jailed founder of the Telegrass online drug marketplace, is No. 2 on the party’s list, though it’s unlikely that a convict can serve as an MK.
- “For now it appears to be a gimmick,” the website says.
6. Immunity unity: The parties may be playing musical chairs, but the blocs are still united around the idea of pursuing or protecting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his immunity request.
- That bid though is seemingly failing as the Knesset steams toward setting up a committee to hear the immunity bid and likely reject it. On Monday the Arrangements Committee approved setting up a House Committee to hear the immunity proceeding, which now must be approved by the full Knesset.
- Yedioth writes that in doing so, the ragtag bunch of MKs managed to look like a “real government” by using their power of numbers to push at least one through.
- The paper handicaps the likely makeup of the House Committee, which will have 14 members of parties that back immunity and 16 from those opposed.
- Channel 12 news reports that that Netanyahu is now weighing pulling his immunity request in order to prevent handing his rival Blue and White party with the opportunity for a “victory photo op.”
7. Just wait, Yuli be sorry: In the meantime, pressure is on Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who is taking heavy fire for allowing the process to go ahead.
- Likud’s Miki Zohar tells Army Radio that Edelstein doesn’t have to let the Knesset convene. “Even if the High Court says he has to, he can say ‘don’t bother me’ and not do it. He has the power to stop the process of rejecting immunity until after elections.”
- At a meeting of the right-wing bloc Tuesday, the party heads decide to draft a letter to Edelstein urging him to not allow the Knesset to convene and vote on setting up a committee to hear the immunity request, though Kan reports he already decided he would try to block it.
- “They will demand that he not convene the Knesset, even though the Knesset legal adviser already determined that he doesn’t have the authority for this. If Edelstein goes along with their request, Blue and White is expected to appeal to the legal adviser,” Channel 12 news reports.
- The request puts Edelstein, stuck between wanting to stay Knesset speaker and wanting to please his Likud party, in a tough spot. “Edelstein is making efforts so Blue and White does not kick him out of the city (the speaker’s office), so now Netanyahu is making sure that he at least eats the rotting fish,” tweets Channel 13’s Akiva Novick, a reference to a Midrashic adage about a person who tries to avoid punishment and ends up getting it even worse. (In the parable, the person gets the stinking halibut as well as lashes and a fine.)
- Kan reports that Netanyahu is “boiling mad” at Edelstein for even allowing the committee meeting to go ahead, citing various people close to the prime minister.
- “He stabbed us in the back a lot, but the sharpest and most poisonous knife was today,” Netanyahu is quoted saying.