With deadline nearing, PM said to sweeten deal for merger with extremist party

Netanyahu offers Union of Right-Wing Parties two ministerial posts in his next government if it again agrees to run with Otzma Yehudit on joint slate

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

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)
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)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly promised the leaders of the Jewish Home and National Union factions two ministerial posts in his next government in exchange for joining forces with an extremist party in the September 17 elections.

Netanyahu has been working to once again broker a controversial merger involving Otzma Yehudit to ensure that the parties clear the 3.25 percent electoral threshold and bolster right-wing bloc he needs to bring him to the premiership for a fourth consecutive term.

Jewish Home and National Union agreed to join forces with Otzma Yehudit ahead of the April elections to form the Union of Right-Wing Parties amid intense pressure from Netanyahu. The prime minister was heavily criticized both in Israel and abroad for arranging the alliance with the Kahanist faction, which ultimately won five seats in the 120-member Knesset.

In the run-up to the September vote, Netanyahu has been urging Rafi Peretz, the Jewish Home leader and current URWP head, to reject a merger with Ayelet Shaked’s New Right party and run on a joint list with Otzma again.

On Wednesday, the Walla news site reported that Netanyahu had sweetened his proposal to Peretz and offered the URWP two ministerial posts in his government if it runs with Otzma, even if it didn’t win the six seats polls have it winning in hte September election.

A New Right source told The Times of Israel on Sunday that Netanyahu called Peretz three times over the weekend to push the controversial Otzma merger.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset, December 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Leaders of Otzma Yehudit, or “Jewish Power,” have described themselves as proud disciples of the late rabbi Meir Kahane, who supported violently expelling Arabs from Israel and the West Bank and once proposed legislation outlawing inter-ethnic sexual relations. Kahane’s Kach organization is classified as a terror group by the US and his political party is forbidden from running in Israeli elections.

Otzma Yehudit now says it supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel and expelling Palestinians and Arab Israelis who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty would extend throughout the West Bank.

According to reports, Peretz is wary of teaming up with Otzma Yehudit and would rather join forces with Shaked’s New Right party. New Right and Jewish Home this week said merger talks between Shaked and Peretz were underway.

Shaked, whose party did not pass the electoral threshold in the April elections, is seeking to merge with other parties. A popular former justice minister, Shaked has strong backing to lead a merged slate with URWP.

But Peretz has reportedly refused to give up his position as leader during the negotiations with Shaked. A key sticking point is Peretz’s objection to the secular Shaked leading the URWP, which draws its votes from national religious Israelis.

Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir speaks at a campaign event in Bat Yam, April 6, 2019. (Flash90)

Shaked in recent days has also reportedly held several meetings with senior Otzma Yehudit member Itamar Ben Gvir, although both have remained tight-lipped about the content of their conversations.

Last week, as Peretz and National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich renewed their agreement for their parties to run as the URWP in September, they urged other right-wing parties to join them. In a joint statement, they said that unity among national religious parties was needed to “maximize our electoral potential and prevent the wasting of votes.”

Otzma Yehudit said that it had been excluded from the alliance this election cycle but would consider joining if its candidates were given a significant representation on the slate. A URWP party source said last week that Otzma Yehudit was demanding the 3rd and 6th spots on a joint ticket.

The final Knesset slates must be presented to the Central Elections Committee by August 1.

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