Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked is expected to announce Sunday evening that she will lead the New Right in a bid by the party to reach the Knesset in the September elections, after it failed to cross the electoral threshold in April.
Shaked and Naftali Bennett will switch places on the party’s slate, with Shaked taking the top slot and serving as the New Right’s leader, Hebrew media reported.
Shaked has called a press conference in Ramat Gan for 8:10 p.m.
Bennett, the former education minister, who has said he would be willing to let her take the reins of the party, met with Shaked for late-night talks Saturday in an effort to woo her back to the party. The two failed to come to an agreement after that meeting.
Shaked was thought to be a potential leader of a right-wing slate including the Union of Right-Wing Parties. Polls showed a right-wing list led by Shaked faring better than one led by current Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz.
Peretz is slated to meet with URWP No. 2 Bezalel Smotrich this afternoon ahead of Shaked’s expected announcement amid calls for him to step aside in favor of Shaked.
Unnamed associates of Peretz told the Ynet news site on Sunday that Shaked and Bennett “intend to launch a blitz and force a [joint] list under their conditions. We won’t allow this to happen. Shaked won’t get the top place.”
In a Sunday tweet, Bennett seemed to suggest New Right would seek a union with URWP or some of its factions.
“The country is more important than personal advancement,” he wrote. “And what the country needs now is a united right.”
Bennett’s call for unity could cost him personally, as any merger would likely place him on a still lower position on the final slate to make way for leaders of other factions.
Parties have until the end of July to officially register their slates ahead of the September 17 election, and leaders of various factions on the right and left have been jockeying for positions and negotiating possible mergers in the lead-up to the deadline.
Bennett and Shaked left their spots as leader and No. 2 of Jewish Home late last year to form the New Right party as co-chairs, but the faction fell about 1,380 votes short of crossing the threshold to enter the Knesset in April.
Shaked is thought to be interested in leading a wide constellation of right-wing parties, but Bennett, who chafed under the heavy rabbinical influence in Jewish Home, was believed to want to keep New Right as a distinct and more secular right-wing faction.
“I prefer if we can create a liberal right-wing bloc with one leader, and have another leader at the head of another party that is a religious Hardal [ultra-Orthodox-nationalist] which is the Union of Right-Wing Parties,” Bennett told Channel 12 news in an interview that aired Saturday. “That seems more logical, but we need to see, there are still 10 days to go.”
It is not immediately clear if Bennett’s call Sunday for a united right is a step back from his view on Saturday.
Shaked has also held meetings with Peretz, who led the URWP slate made up of Jewish Home, National Union and Oztma Yehudit in the April election.
Peretz has argued Shaked, who is secular, cannot lead a party defined by its religious beliefs and agenda.
However, a URWP source told the Ynet news site that Shaked had yet to make her intentions clear to the party, which could be open to being led by her.
“She has to say she’s interested. At this point she still hasn’t said if she wants to run with us in one big party, or if she will run with a different party,” the source said.
National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich tweeted Saturday that Bennett and Shaked should not “repeat past mistakes” by splitting the right-wing vote.
“If they make the same irresponsible mistake, they will be held responsible for the result. This time they will not be forgiven for bringing down a right-wing government because of personal interests,” he wrote.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called September’s election after failing to find enough willing partners to form a right-wing government following the April election. Analysts say that the political calculus may have changed had New Right entered the Knesset or not siphoned votes away from URWP.