New Right chairwoman Ayelet Shaked revealed Monday that she had put forward a merger offer to Union of Right-Wing Parties leader Rafi Peretz, which would see her lead a joint slate with each faction receiving equal representation.
Shaked, speaking to the press from the Efrat settlement south of Jerusalem where she and New Right No. 2 Naftali Bennett were on a tour of the area with the pro-settlement NGO Regavim, also pushed back against reported efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block such a merger.
“We made a proposal based on equal [representation]. This is something that can be agreed on as early as tonight. It’s the right thing to do, putting ego aside,” she said.
A day earlier, Bennett agreed to step down from the helm of New Right, a fledgling faction that had failed to cross the electoral threshold in the April elections.
Shaked was named party leader at a Sunday night press conference, where she called on the other parties to the right of Likud to merge in a united slate she would lead.
“We will run to the end, even if there are no mergers, but look at the polls yesterday that put us at eight seats. I believe that it is possible to be an independent and strong party, but would prefer to lead a broad right-wing union,” she said.
A Kan public broadcaster poll published moments after Shaked made her announcement indicated that the New Right under her leadership would win eight seats, but a Channel 12 survey had her party receiving just six.
If Shaked were to lead a united New Right-URWP slate, Kan and Channel 12 predicted that the bloc would get 13 or 12 seats, respectively, as opposed to the totals of 11 and 12 seats they’d garner if the two parties ran separately.
Shaked added Monday that she had spoken by phone with Peretz and the two agreed to meet in person to discuss a possible merger. Peretz cited the phone call in a statement similarly stressing “the importance of creating unity.”
However, as additional details regarding the New Right’s initial offer began to surface, URWP officials spoke out against it.
“These arrogant preconditions do not seem to advance us toward unity,” URWP director general Yehuda Vald tweeted in response to a Walla report that revealed that Shaked demanded her party receive all the odd-numbered slots in the slate’s top ten while URWP would receive the even spots.
According to Ynet, Shaked expects that URWP’s spots will also include members of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, which quit its alliance with Jewish Home and National Union last month over disagreements with Peretz.
Peretz has thus far rejected the possibility of stepping down from the number one spot of any slate on which he would run. A group of prominent national religious rabbis had backed him up in recent weeks, asserting that a religious Zionist party should be run by someone who’s religious. Shaked is secular, in addition to being a woman, which some more hard-line rabbis have made an issue of.
Peretz is also reportedly being backed up by Netanyahu, who may want to avoid dealing with a strengthened far-right bloc in coalition negotiations.
“We live in a democratic state. The public will determine this matter,” Shaked said when asked about Netanyahu’s opposition.
Peretz, however, is facing pressure to cede his top spot from several prominent members of his base, following several weeks of political storm after he referred to the intermarriage rate among US Jewry as a “second Holocaust” and then spoke out in apparent support of gay conversion therapy.
A number of prominent spiritual leaders, among them Safed’s chief rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, said Monday that they now support Shaked as the leader of a bloc to the right of Likud.
While Shaked has refrained from public quarrels with URWP members, Bennett has been more outspoken in recent weeks, being among the first to criticize Peretz’s conversion therapy remarks.
Asked by The Times of Israel in Efrat how he could sit in the same party with those he’s criticized for having contentious views on matters of religion and state, Bennett clarified that the type of merger he and Shaked were seeking will be a “technical bloc.”
“Think of it as a bus that people board with different opinions and then when it gets to a certain benchmark, they get off and go their separate ways,” Bennett said.
Shaked added that she hoped that in such a scenario the parties would remain united during the coalition negotiations before deciding whether to break apart.
Palestinian construction in Area C
After field workers from Regavim briefly pointed to an illegal building project in the neighboring Palestinian village of al-Khader, Shaked and Bennett both declared that they would put an end to such activity.
“In recent years, as part of an organized and funded effort by the Palestinian Authority, we have witnessed a massive takeover of Area C,” said Shaked, referring to the 60% of the West Bank that is under Israeli civil and military control.
In a phone call, Hagit Ofran of the Peace Now settlement watchdog responded to the comments, saying that much of the illegal construction in Area C has to do with the fact that Israel almost never grants Palestinians building permits. Moreover, she argued that preventing natural Palestinian expansion would “only be an interest of the Israeli government if it intends to annex [the West Bank] and facilitate a system of apartheid.”
When Shaked was asked why she and Bennett hadn’t done anything to prevent the “PA takeover,” despite having been members of the government for the past six years, she said that their party had never been in control of the Defense Ministry, which oversees West Bank construction.
Ahead of the April election, Bennett had campaigned on being made defense minister and briefly threatened to bolt the government if Netanyahu did not make the appointment. Asked if they would be making similar demands ahead of the September vote, Shaked said they had learned lessons from the previous campaign and would not be talking about government posts at this stage.