Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached a deal with Jewish Home on Wednesday to grant the national-religious party a pair of ministerial posts after April’s elections in exchange for it merging with the extremist Otzma Yehudit.
Jewish Home, which last week agreed to run for Knesset jointly with the far-right National Union, has come under increasing pressure from Netanyahu to make an alliance with Otzma Yehudit and Eli Yishai’s Yachad, arguing that a failure on those smaller parties’ part to clear the electoral threshold could deprive his Likud of enough potential partners to form a ruling coalition.
In a joint statement, Likud and Jewish Home said Netanyahu agreed with party leader Rafi Peretz to give the 28th spot on Likud’s list — which is reserved for a candidate of his choice — to a member of Jewish Home-National Union in exchange for Jewish Home teaming up with Otzma Yehudit.
That candidate would then join the united far-right bloc after elections.
Netanyahu also agreed to give the new faction two “significant and equal” ministerial roles if he heads the next government, according to the statement. Furthermore, the parties decided not to attack each other on the campaign trail.
“The upcoming elections are between a left-wing government headed by [Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz and a right-wing government headed by me. I praise the representatives of the Jewish Home and National Union for demonstrating responsibility toward the Land of Israel and succeeding in uniting the ranks in order to ensure votes on the right will not be lost,” the statement quoted Netanyahu saying.
Peretz said he supported the agreement and would bring it before Jewish Home’s central committee later Wednesday for approval.
“We won’t allow those who on the left who preach to crown themselves as the leaders of the country. At the end of the process everyone will see we were right,” Peretz said. “The national-religious will be a senior partner in the leadership of the state and the next government.”
Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party responded to Netanyahu’s efforts to forge the merger, slamming the prime minister for courting the extremist faction.
“In our government there won’t be Balad or Kahana,” the party said in a statement, referring to the Arab-Israeli faction that has been accused of supporting terror, and the spiritual leader of Otzma Yehudit.
“Netanyahu has lost his dignity and his Zionism,” the party charged.
The sealing of the agreement comes hours after after Netanyahu canceled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to push the right-wing factions to unite, and a day before parties must finalize their lists of candidates for elections on April 9.
Otzma Yehudit, which is made up of former disciples of the late extreme rightist rabbi Meir Kahane, announced earlier Wednesday it had accepted an offer to run with Jewish Home that would give it the fifth and eight spots on a united list.
The offer was the same one that the party — led by former National Union MK Michael Ben Ari and activists Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein — had rejected the last time the sides sat down on Tuesday. But Otzma Yehudit has been consistently polling below the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of the national vote and had made it very clear in recent weeks that it desperately wanted to merge with another party to ensure its entrance into the Knesset. With little bargaining room, representatives from the party returned to the negotiation table Wednesday and accepted the proposal they’d been decrying as “disrespectful” for the past few days.
The agreement would see Ben Ari take the fifth spot on the united list. Ben Gvir is next in line to receive the eighth spot, but an Otzma Yehudit official told The Times of Israel that the attorney, who is known for representing Jewish terror suspects, is still considering whether to step aside and let another member of the slate take his spot. It was not immediately clear whether that would be Marzel or Gopstein.
The deal will be brought before the Jewish Home central committee Wednesday evening for final approval.
While a union with Otzma Yehudit could likely add roughly two seats’ worth of votes to Jewish Home, the party’s leaders are wary of losing more moderate voters who would not be able to stomach the likes of Ben Ari and his colleagues.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.