New Right said seeking bloc with Likud, Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu
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New Right said seeking bloc with Likud, Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu

Internal party polls suggest union needed to counter surge by Gantz’s Israel Resilience party; Liberman says ‘no intention whatsoever’ to pursue merger

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Education Minister Nafatli Bennett from the New Right political party on an election campaign tour in central Jerusalem, January 23, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Education Minister Nafatli Bennett from the New Right political party on an election campaign tour in central Jerusalem, January 23, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

With Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party soaring in the polls after announcing a merger with fellow former chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem faction last week, the newly formed New Right party is now reportedly seeking to form a united bloc of all the major right-wing parties in order to counter a challenge from the center.

Fearing a continued surge for Gantz, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right is actively pursuing a possible merger with the ruling Likud party as well two other current coalition partners, Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu, according to a report Sunday morning by the Kan public broadcaster.

Likud is currently polling at around 30 seats, with Israel Resilience predicted to snag around 19 seats if elections were held today. But polls held last week showed a further Israel Resilience merger with the centrist Yesh Atid getting around 35 seats, and the bloc could further strengthen if more center-left parties agree to unite.

Internal New Right polls show that such a bloc could only be beaten by a union of right-wing parties, the Kan report said. Likewise, Channel 13 news reported on Saturday that internal Likud polling shows the party rising to 38-39 seats if it merges with New Right.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Education Minister Naftali Bennett on November 13, 2017, in the Knesset. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking on Kan’s Reshet Bet radio Sunday morning, Bennett said he had not yet had any direct contact with the Likud over a merger, but would not deny efforts to bring various right-wing parties together.

“Netanyahu is the next prime minister; the question is who sits next to him. If we are not big, Netanyahu will again give the Justice Ministry to [Hatenua leader Tzipi] Livni, Defense [ministry to] Gantz,” Bennett said, admitting that the former chief of staff’s surge in popularity could put an end to the current right-wing coalition and also severely threaten his own party’s success.

“I am working to be big enough to force the prime minister to take us as the main partner after the next elections,” he stressed, saying he believed that his party represented “the next generation of the right” and claiming it was in the interest of other right-wing parties to join him.

Responding to the report, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party rejected the suggestion it needed to join with Bennett in order to ensure it pass the electoral threshold and not weaken the right’s changes of forming a government, saying that its own internal polling showed it gaining “at least eight seats,” with the New Right at “barely six.”

“The New Right, in despair, are trying to drag Yisrael Beytenu into a war of slander, and we suggest that they look for other partners.” a party statement said.

Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman at the Knesset on July 22, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Speaking on Army Radio, Liberman, who resigned as defense minister and pulled out of the coalition in October over what he described as a weak response to clashes with Hamas, said he has “no intention whatsoever” to unite with either Likud or the New Right.

“We are the only real right-wing party, and voters know it,” he said.

Kulanu declined to comment on the report.

The reports of efforts to form a right-wing bloc come after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached out to Likud officials on Saturday in a bid to reserve more slots on the party’s ticket, in what he said was a reaction to “expected mergers on the left.”

The move would allow for Netanyahu to inject big-name candidates from outside the party into the faction ahead of the April elections, but more likely would open up spots for a unity deal with an additional right-wing party.

While the No. 21 spot on the Likud list was already reserved for a candidate of his choosing, the premier is now asking officials of his party to sign off on giving him the No. 28 and No. 36 slots as well.

The relatively low places requested by Netanyahu on the party lineup would seem to indicate plans for a merger with a less powerful right-wing party, such as Jewish Home, which polls show likely failing to enter the Knesset after Bennett and Shaked broke off to form the New Right.

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