Union of Right-Wing Parties leader Rafi Peretz on Sunday said he agreed give New Right leader Ayelet Shaked the top spot on a joint electoral ticket for the September 17 elections.
In a tweet, Peretz said he and Shaked reached the agreement out of a sense of “national unity and concern for a right-wing government and religious Zionism.”
“Unity is the shared goal of all of us,” he said.
The announcement came ahead of Peretz’s meeting in Jerusalem with the New Right’s Shaked and No. 2, Naftali Bennett, to hammer out details of a possible merger.
In a statement, Shaked expressed hope a deal could be reached by Sunday night.
“I hope that we can finish this tonight and that white smoke will rise so that we can move on to the second stage: Trying to bring all right-wing parties into the fold of the united right,” the former justice minister said.
According to reports in Hebrew-language media, Peretz was expected to demand the alliance commit to endorsing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a fourth consecutive term as premier. The prime minister had pressed Peretz to present this demand as a condition for the merger, reports said.
Peretz’s announcement came three days before the deadline for parties to register their electoral slates for the upcoming elections.
The New Right has been pushing for a tie-up with the URWP and others ahead of the election in a bid to prevent votes being split and possibly lost among the various right-wing factions.
But the negotiations between the two parties stalled over New Right’s demand that the secular Shaked lead the joint slate representing the national-religious community.
Shaked, who earlier this week took the reins of the New Right, has been pushing for the URWP to merge with her party to avoid the factions splitting the right-wing bloc and risking one of them not clearing the electoral threshold. In April’s election, New Right fell about a thousand votes short of entering the Knesset, while URWP won five seats.
Shaked now appears poised to become the sole female party leader in the upcoming national vote.
Earlier on Sunday, Bennett, assured voters the URWP alliance would be a “technical bloc” solely for the purposes of the upcoming elections and the parties would part ways after entering the Knesset.
Bennett said in a Facebook livestream that he wanted the loose coalition to also include Moshe Feiglin’s quasi-libertarian Zehut party, and the extremist Otzma Yehudit which ran as a part of URWP in April’s elections.
“We decided to unite everyone, all the parties on the right, including Feiglin, to bring them under one umbrella,” Bennett said.
But Zehut’s Feiglin on Sunday night said his party would be running independently and accused Shaked of keeping him out of the loop.
Like New Right, Zehut fell short of the electoral threshold in the April vote.
Otzma Yehudit joined the URWP for the April vote, but has since said it was breaking its partnership with URWP’s Jewish Home sub-faction in a dispute over the party slate.
On Sunday night, Otzma Yehudit said it agreed on a joint run with the far-right fringe party Noam, which represents the Har HaMor yeshiva.
Three polls published on Thursday evening gave New Right nine to 11 Knesset seats, compared with just four for URWP.
Netanyahu was also pushing the URWP merger to prevent any right-wing party from falling below the electoral threshold.
Otzma Yehudit member Itamar Ben Gvir told The Times of Israel on Thursday that the prime minister was doing “everything in his power” to ensure the far-right party was included in any electoral alliance. Ben Gvir called on the other right-wing party heads to act with the same level of “responsibility.”
But according to reports, Netanyahu opposed Shaked leading the joint slate. Last week, Netanyahu reportedly offered URWP two ministerial posts in a possible future government if it joined with Otzma Yehudit and rejected Shaked.
The final Knesset slates must be presented to the Central Elections Committee by August 1.