The right-wing Yamina alliance announced it would break into three factions Tuesday night, minutes after exit polls showed the party comfortably sliding into the Knesset.
Faction leader Ayelet Shaked informed Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein in a letter that the right-wing party was splitting back into New Right and Jewish Home as originally planned before the joint Knesset run.
Shaked and Naftali Bennett will remain together as leaders of New Right party, while Bezalel Smotrich will stick to his National Union, and Rafi Peretz will lead the Jewish Home party.
Speaking to reporters at Yamina headquarters in Ramat Gan, Shaked said even though the parties were splitting up, they would negotiate a coalition agreement as a single bloc.
Shaked indicated that she didn’t support dissolving Yamina, citing “what’s right” for the country, but said it was important to uphold campaign promises.
“We have to keep promises made to the electorate,” said Shaked. “But we also need to see what’s right for the State of Israel, the ideological right and religious-Zionism.”
Shaked’s New Right, the National Union and the Jewish Home came together ahead of the election to run on a joint slate to ensure they all clear the 3.25% electoral threshold.
Exit polls published by the three major TV news networks on Tuesday night showed Yamina winning between six and eight seats.
If the final results see the faction winning six seats, the parties will get two Knesset seats apiece. If Yamina wins seven seats, the New Right gets a third seat, meaning that Shaked, Bennett and No. 3 on the New Right list, Matan Kahane, will be in the 22nd Knesset.
In the event Yamina wins eight seats, it will go to Jewish Home’s Idit Silman as per the electoral agreement struck between the parties ahead of Tuesday’s election.
Shaked and Bennett split from the Jewish Home in December 2018 to form the New Right in a bid to appeal to less religious nationalist voters.
The two had hoped to pull votes away from both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and the Union of Right-Wing Parties – a faction comprising of the Jewish Home, the National Union, and the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party – but the maneuver failed and New Right did not pass the 3.25% electoral threshold in the April 9 elections.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, the New Right joined forces with Jewish Home and the National Union to form the Yamina alliance. In an attempt to broaden voter appeal, it named Shaked – a controversial but very popular politician – as its leader.
However, a review of the New Right’s party bylaws by the Times of Israel partner site Zman Yisrael earlier this week revealed that Bennett remains the New Right’s chairman, despite Shaked being publicly presented as its leader throughout the campaign and being placed at No. 1 on Yamina’s Knesset slate.
The reason for the ambiguity appears to be part of the party’s effort to maintain Shaked’s status as head of Yamina during the election campaign and defer any discussion on the faction’s political future until after the results were announced.
The three separate exit polls carried by Channel 12, Channel 13 and the Kan public broadcaster on Tuesday night showed Netanyahu locked in a tight race with his main rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, with each party projected to win between 31 and 34 parliament seats out of 120.
Ex-defense minister Avigdor Lieberman’s secularist Yisrael Beytenu party, which could play a kingmaker role, could win between eight and 10 seats, according to the polls.
If the exit polls are reasonably accurate — and they have in the past been off-base — either Netanyahu or Gantz will face tough negotiations to break the deadlock and form a government.