Knesset’s dead, but right-wing clique to stick together, Shas head says

Aryeh Deri says bloc will work together head of new election, but predicts band of right-wing and religious parties may not last if it fails to clinch a majority this time around

Prime Minister Bejnamin Netanyahu meets with heads of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties in Jerusalem, October 23, 2019 (Likud)
Prime Minister Bejnamin Netanyahu meets with heads of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties in Jerusalem, October 23, 2019 (Likud)

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri said Thursday that the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc of 55 Knesset members would continue to work together ahead of the newly announced March 2020 election, though he also suggested the alliance may not last beyond the election if it again fails to win a Knesset majority.

The bloc was formed by right-wing and religious parties following the September election, with all 55 constituent MKs agreeing to negotiate as a unified group to form a government, rather than allow the separate parties to hold talks individually with potential partners.

“The right-wing bloc is continuing and will continue to act and work together ahead of a third election,” Deri said in a statement. “I hope the right-wing bloc gets 61 seats and we can form a stable right-wing government led by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that will serve Israel for at least four years.”

But earlier during an interview with Kan radio, Deri said he did “not know” whether the bloc would survive if it did not manage to secure those 61 seats.

“I’ve been solid on safeguarding Netanyahu and going with Likud. I thought Netanyahu was the prime minister Israel needs with his experience… We’ll continue to support Netanyahu and to be alongside him. I hope this time we’ll bring results,” he said.

Shas party chairman Minister of Interior Affairs Aryeh Deri (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of the death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, at the Knesset, November 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

But he added: “What will happen after the election if the bloc doesn’t manage to bring 61 seats? I don’t know.”

The bloc includes Likud, New Right, Jewish Home-National Union, Shas and United Torah Judaism.

On Wednesday the Knesset dissolved after failing to form a government for a second time this year. A new national vote has been set for March 2, 2020.

Earlier that day, the Israel Hayom newspaper reported that an unnamed right-wing leader, in closed conversations in recent days, had said “the situation of a bloc will not happen again.”

The unidentified person said “the move was right at the time… to prevent the formation of a left-wing government. But it won’t happen next time. If Netanyahu can’t form a government we cannot repeat what has taken place in recent months, we’ll have to look for new possibilities and alliances.”

Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett (L) at a press conference in Ramat Gan announcing Shaked as the new leader of the New Right party, July 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Even as another election has now been called, some recent polls indicated it may not resolve the political deadlock, with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman again potentially holding the balance of power.

A Tuesday poll showed Blue and White increasing its lead over Likud, expanding its current one-seat advantage to a four-seat lead — 37 seats to Likud’s 33 in the 120-member Knesset. Meanwhile, the rightist bloc of parties backing Netanyahu is set to fall by three seats, according to the Channel 13 poll, from the current 55 total to 52, far short of the 61 seats it would need to form a coalition in the 120-seat Knesset.

Wednesday night’s vote to dissolve the Knesset came at the deadline for forming a government, after which the legislature was required to disperse automatically.

That vote brought to an official close attempts by Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to assemble a coalition following the September election. Talks between Netanyahu and Gantz, leaders of the two-largest parties, on a unity arrangement broke down with both sides trading blame.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz at the Knesset on December 11, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Over the past 21 days, lawmakers also had the opportunity to nominate any MK for a shot at forming a government by gathering 61 signatures, but no such candidate was nominated.

The April 2019 election made history when by the end of May it became the first-ever Israeli election that failed to produce a government. At the time, Netanyahu was short just one vote of a majority. Liberman had refused to join over disagreements on the ultra-Orthodox enlistment law with Netanyahu’s Haredi political allies, precipitating the repeat vote in the fall.

Following both elections, neither Gantz’s Blue and White nor Netanyahu’s Likud had enough allies to form a government without the other or the support of the Yisrael Beytenu party, but the two parties could not finalize the terms for a unity coalition.

Netanyahu will be campaigning in the upcoming election in the shadow of criminal charges against him in three corruption probes, which were announced by the attorney general last month. He faces an indictment over bribery in one case, and fraud and breach of trust in all three. He denies all wrongdoing.

He also faces an internal leadership challenge by Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar in an upcoming party primary.

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