Peretz offers Shaked no. 2 spot on URWP slate, at expense of Smotrich

Union of Right Wing Parties hopes to block Liberman in coalition negotiations after September elections

Ayelet Shaked and Bezalel Smotrich (L) attend a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Israeli parliament on July 9, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ayelet Shaked and Bezalel Smotrich (L) attend a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Israeli parliament on July 9, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Union of Right Wing Parties chief Rafi Peretz on Thursday called on former justice minister Ayelet Shaked to join the slate, offering her the No. 2 spot on the list, which would entail bumping down the current No. 2, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Last week Smotrich declared that he would give up his place on the slate for the sake of unity on the right.

“I want us to have 61 seats, without [Avigdor] Liberman, and therefore am making a big effort to unite all the right-wing parties,” Peretz, who was recently appointed education minister, told Army Radio.

The Knesset voted to disband itself and called new elections for September 17, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to broker a compromise between Liberman’s right-wing secular Yisrael Beytenu and ultra-Orthodox parties in the wake of the April 9 elections. Initial polls have suggested Liberman may emerge from the coalition standoff in a stronger position, and increase his party’s five Knesset seats to eight or nine in the September election.

Rafi Peretz, head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, holds a press conference after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, April 16, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Peretz also called on Naftali Bennett, his predecessor as head of Jewish Home, which is part of the URWP, to return to the party, but would not promise him a place at the top of the list, as well as reaching out to Moshe Feiglin of the quasi-libertarian party Zehut.

“I call on Bennett, and Feiglin too — let’s sit down together, try to sum up principles for a joint run,” Peretz said.

“I do not make statements about the places — my only statement is to reach out to everyone so that we can put things aside so that Netanyahu will be prime minister,” Peretz said.

The URWP’s leaders Peretz and Smotrich are seeking to separate Shaked from her erstwhile partner Naftali Bennett. Shaked is considered an electoral asset, while Bennett is viewed with distaste for quitting the leadership of Jewish Home to form the New Right alongside Shaked, according to Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel group’s Hebrew site.

However, Shaked is seen as more likely to accept Bennett’s reported offer to once again run with him in New Right — but this time as the slate’s no. 1 candidate.

According to the Zman report last week, whereas Shaked and Peretz have only met once, last week, she and Bennett are in daily contact, with Bennett having accepted that Shaked will lead the party and the two now just discussing the details.

Union of Right-Wing Parties chairman Rafi Peretz (R) and National Union faction chair Bezalel Smotrich at the party’s 2019 election campaign launch, March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shaked announced last week that she plans to run in September, but did not say whether she intended to continue with Bennett in the New Right or join another party.

Last December, ahead of the elections in April, Bennett and Shaked left the Jewish Home in order to form the New Right, which campaigned to the right of Likud on security issues while representing what it referred to as a “secular-religious partnership.”

The fledgling party narrowly missed crossing the electoral threshold in the elections, but with Netanyahu having failed to cobble together a coalition before the May 30 deadline and initiating snap elections in September, the New Right has been given another opportunity to make it into the Knesset. Bennett has announced that it will compete again, but will seek to form alliances with other factions in order to broaden its appeal. As part of this effort, it has entered into talks with URWP — an amalgam of the Jewish Home, National Union and Otzma Yehudit — over the possibility of a merger.

Yet, there remains animosity between Jewish Home and Bennett over his ditching of the party before the last elections, which he justified at the time as being due to narrow-minded attitudes on the part of its spiritual leadership.

Last week Bennett said he had no intention of returning to the Jewish Home, claiming its intolerance was not representative of the national religious community that it purports to represent.

Education Minister Nafatli Bennett (L) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked give a press conference at the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Earlier this month Netanyahu fired both Shaked and Bennett from their respective positions as justice and education ministers.

Talks between the parties to the right of Likud have been ongoing and among the options presented, in addition to a wholly unified list, has been a “technical bloc” that would be assured of passing the electoral threshold but would break apart into is constituent parties immediately after the elections.

A poll earlier in the month in the Makor Rishon paper found Shaked, though secular, to be far and away the most popular candidate among national religious voters to lead a united right-wing party in the upcoming elections. The survey found that 40.1% wanted Shaked to lead the hypothetical list. Bennett came second at 19%, while Smotrich received 15.1%, Peretz 14.8%, and far-right candidates Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit and Moshe Feiglin of Zehut 2.6% and 1%, respectively.

Nati Yefet contributed to this report.

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