Netanyahu said scrambling to unite right, ahead of address to media
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Netanyahu said scrambling to unite right, ahead of address to media

With evening deadline for finalizing Knesset slates fast approaching, PM reportedly holding talks on efforts to increase bloc’s electoral power; Kulanu announces it will run alone

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis during a joint press conference at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on February 19, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis during a joint press conference at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on February 19, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reportedly engaged in last minute efforts Thursday to unite right-wing parties against the fresh threat of a centrist bloc posed by the newly formed Blue and White alliance, a union of the Israel Resilience, Yesh Atid and Telem parties.

According to media reports, the prime minister held a series of conversations and meetings throughout the day, as a 10 p.m. deadline approached for parties running for April 9 Knesset elections to finalize their candidate slates.

Amid his reported efforts to bring about additional mergers on the right, Netanyahu said in a tweet he would give a live statement at 8:30 p.m., but gave no further information.

One possible move would have been to join Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party with Kulanu, which is led by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, himself a former Likud member. According to the Ynet news site conversations were held between associates of Netanyahu and Kahlon to explore the option.

But Kulanu on Thursday afternoon rule out the prospect, saying it would run alone.

“We’ll run alone — no mergers, no backroom deals,” Kahlon said at an event in Haifa.

Finance Minister and head of the Kulanu party Moshe Kahlon attends a press conference of the Kulanu party in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Flash90)

Netanyahu, at a meeting of the Likud Secretariat Thursday evening, said: “We are ahead of a difficult election campaign. The left is uniting and will enjoy the support of the media and non-stop propaganda from now until election day.

“We know that if we don’t bring everyone to the polls and convince them not to waste their votes on parties that won’t pass the [electoral] threshold, but rather vote for the Likud first — we know there is a danger here. I’m calling things as they are,” he added.

The talks came amid a flurry of mergers and talks of possible alliances in the final 24-hour period before lists close.

After the Blue and White alliance was announced in the early hours of Thursday morning, Meretz party leader MK Tamar Zandberg urged Labor party leader Avi Gabbay to form a similar union between their parties, a call that found support among some top Labor lawmakers. However Gabbay appeared to all but rule out such a union, saying he did not believe it would boost either party’s electoral prospects.

On Wednesday night, under strong pressure from Netanyahu, three nationalist parties agreed to run on a joint slate. The union of Jewish Home, National Union, and far-right Otzma Yehudit was squeezed together despite strong opposition within Jewish Home to being partnered with the latter.

In a joint statement, Likud and Jewish Home said Netanyahu had 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. Eli Ben-Dahan was named as the Jewish Home member who would get the slot.

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 pledged not to go after each other on the campaign trail.

Otzma Yehudit, in its platform, seeks to extend Israeli sovereignty throughout the areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war, and to encourage the removal from that expanded Israel of non-Jews, including Arab citizens of Israel and West Bank Palestinians, deemed disloyal to the Jewish state.

According to a Channel 12 report Thursday, the Jewish Home-led bloc will not include former Shas leader Eli Yishai’s far-right Yachad party.

Recent polls have projected Likud winning around 30 Knesset seats, while Jewish Home and Otzma Yehudit may not have had enough support to enter the Knesset separately. Now united, the two small parties will likely cross the electoral threshold and capture several seats for the right-wing bloc.

Polls have also predicted that the union of Israel Resilience, led by ex-IDF chief Benny Gantz, and Yesh Atid, led by MK Yair Lapid, has a good chance of winning more seats than Likud in the elections. While Likud is projected to win 30 seats, the centrist alliance has scored around 32 seats in polls. However, Netanyahu and the Likud were, so far, still expected to have the best chance of forming an overall majority of 61 seats out of the total 120 in parliament due to the support of ultra-Orthodox and other right-wing parties.

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