Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party is reportedly pressuring two far-right parties to pull out of the upcoming September election to prevent right-wing votes from being “wasted” on the factions, both of which are expected to fall short of entering the Knesset.
Netanyahu confidant Natan Eshel, a Likud negotiator in coalition talks, has pressed Otzma Yehudit Party leader Itamar Ben Gvir, while Likud officials have offered Moshe Feiglin a ministry post if he takes his Zehut Party out of the race, Hebrew media reported on Monday.
Ben Gvir and Feiglin issued statements saying that they were not considering ending their campaigns.
Polls for the September 17 election have consistently predicted that Likud and its chief rival, the centrist Blue and White Party, would both win around 30 seats, but that neither would have a clear path to a majority coalition in the 120-seat parliament.
Parties on the right and left have been working to reduce the chances of votes within their blocs going to parties that are likely to fall short of the 3.25 percent needed to enter the Knesset.
A flurry of alliances and vote-sharing agreements are also designed to ensure that votes are not lost.
A poll published Monday by the Kan public broadcaster gave Otzma Yehudit 2.3% and Zehut 1.7% of the vote, both far short of the minimum threshold to enter the Knesset.
Ben Gvir confirmed that he had met with Eshel, but said that the purpose of the talk was to pass on a message to Netanyahu, saying that the prime minister would need Otzma Yehudit to form a majority coalition.
While predicting that his party will still clear the threshold and win four seats in parliament, Ben Gvir’s statement said he sent a message to Netanyahu that “without Otzma Yehudit there is no right-wing government and Netanyahu cannot form a government.”
In trying to convince Feiglin to end Zehut’s run, Likud reportedly offered to cover all of the party’s campaign costs so far, give Feiglin an economics-related ministry in a future government, and legalize personal use of cannabis, a central tenet of Zehut’s platform.
Feiglin responded to the reports with a post to his Facebook page clarifying that he has signed no agreement to stop campaigning, but rather that he was planning to hold a party conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday and that Zehut is “gathering steam for the elections.”
“It is no secret that heavy pressure is being applied to us to remove our candidacy and we are constantly getting various offers, however I will not violate my assurance to voters,” he wrote.
Feiglin said that even if he received an “offer which very significantly advances Zehut’s platform” he would put the matter to Zehut’s members to vote on in a formal referendum and then act accordingly.
Netanyahu had pushed for merging Otzma Yehudit into the Yamina Party, an alliance of four right-wing nationalist parties, in order to ensure that the extreme-right faction would make it into the Knesset and join his coalition. Netanyahu’s opponents claim that he also wants the party to later back his purported efforts to advance legislation to shield himself from criminal prosecution in three graft cases. But Yamina, led by former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, failed to reach an agreement with Otzma Yehudit before the electoral deadline earlier this month.
On Sunday the Supreme Court banned to Otzma Yehudit members Benzi Gopstein and Baruch Marzel from running in the election due to their histories of racist statements. At the same time, the court dismissed separate petitions calling for the banning of party chairman Ben Gvir as well as the entire Otzma Yehudit slate from running.
The Kan poll Monday gave Likud 32 seats while Blue and White Party was predicted to win 31 seats. The third largest part was predicted to be the Joint List, an alliance of Arab parties, with 11 seats, followed by Yamina with 10 seats.
Overall, the Kan poll gave 56 seats to a right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu and including ultra-Orthodox parties, and 55 seats to a center-left bloc led by Blue and White chief MK Benny Gantz, minus the Joint List.
With a predicted nine seats, MK Avigdor Liberman, leader of the secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, held the balance of power in the poll, a position he has maintained since fresh elections were called at the end of May.
It was Liberman’s refusal to join a Netanyahu coalition over an impasse with ultra-Orthodox parties after April elections that led to the dissolution of parliament and the calling of the September vote. The development heightened animosity between Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, and Netanyahu is now aiming to form a majority without his former coalition partner.
In a development that could further impact Otzma Yehudit’s election chances, a group of rabbis from the messianic branch of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad movement issued a letter Monday to their followers instructing them to only vote for parties that have a clear chance of crossing the threshold. They also said votes should not be given to any party that would agree to give up Holy Land territory — meaning the West Bank — or parties prepared to grant any form of autonomy to “non-Jews.”