Prior to his decision to quit Yamina and join the new National Unity party led by Benny Gantz, Gideon Sa’ar and Gadi Eisenkot, MK Matan Kahana tried to reach common ground with party leader Ayelet Shaked, and failed to do so, according to a report Sunday.
The Walla news site said Shaked refused to commit to Kahana not to prop up a narrow right-wing government under Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu after the November elections. She also reportedly would not promise that she would not agree to Netanyahu serving as premier first, should the vote result in yet another government that rotates the prime minister’s position.
Shaked now heads an alliance of Yamina and Yoaz Hendel’s Derech Eretz parties under the moniker Zionist Spirit. Analysts say the departure of Kahana, a popular figure among moderates in the national religious camp, could be a death blow to Zionist Spirit, which has been teetering near the electoral threshold in opinion polls. Three surveys published on Sunday evening all showed it crashing out, if elections were held today.
Both Shaked and Kahana were close political allies of former prime minister Naftali Bennett, who handed control of the right-wing Yamina to Shaked, after he resigned in June following the collapse of the government.
Kahana was religious affairs minister in the now-outgoing government, and led several major reforms to decrease the power of the Chief Rabbinate that have made him very unpopular among Haredim.
On Sunday, he announced that he would be joining former IDF chief Eisenkot in the new National Unity alliance, alongside the Blue and White and New Hope parties. He is expected to be placed 9th on the slate.
According to Walla, Shaked, the interior minister, discussed various scenarios with Kahana, including one in which Zionist Spirit provides Netanyahu with the final seats needed to form a narrow right-wing government. She reportedly refused to rule out such a scenario.
In a statement responding to the report, Zionist Spirit acknowledged that Shaked and Kahana had held “many conversations in recent weeks,” but said that what was discussed “will remain behind closed doors.”
Zionist Spirit repeated its commitment to strive for a broad government rather than a narrow one. “We do not intend to promise voters at this stage who will be first and who will be second in a [potential] rotation,” it said. “We leave that to the negotiations between the parties the day after the elections.”
Shaked took a swipe at Kahana on Sunday morning for joining National Unity, saying it was part of the left.