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Yesh Atid-Telem said planning to split, as Yamina courts Jewish Home

Ya’alon, Lapid reportedly fail to agree on terms for continued partnership; Bennett’s party in talks with faction whose leader, Rafi Peretz, seems poised to retire

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Blue and White leaders Yair Lapid (R) and Moshe Ya'alon at a faction meeting at the Knesset on June 24, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Blue and White leaders Yair Lapid (R) and Moshe Ya'alon at a faction meeting at the Knesset on June 24, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon will reportedly split from the Yesh Atid party ahead of the upcoming March election, preparing instead to run separately with his Telem faction as the political arena fills up with more and more parties.

Ya’alon and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid met Sunday to discuss the possibility of remaining together for the election but were unable to come to an agreement on the terms of a continued partnership, Channel 12 news reported Monday.

According to the report, Ya’alon’s Telem is now set to run on its own in the elections, unless it teams up with another party to run as a joint slate.

Neither Ya’alon nor Yesh Atid responded to requests to comment on the report.

In the previous election, Telem and Yesh Atid ran on a joint slate with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, an alliance known as Blue and White. One of its campaign slogans was “There is no more right or left, only Israel before all else.”

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz (second left) with colleagues (from right) Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi at party headquarters on elections night in Tel Aviv, early September 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The party broke apart when Gantz decided to enter a coalition with Netanyahu, citing the need to prevent a fourth consecutive election by forming a unity government that could tackle the health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Ya’alon and Lapid insisted that Netanyahu could not be trusted and would always place his personal interests, and his effort to evade prosecution from the criminal indictments he’s facing, over the greater good.

Despite Netanyahu and Gantz reaching a deal that was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, a loophole in the agreement saw the coalition collapse due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.

Last month, Ya’alon said he would run in elections with a separate party and have ex-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot as his number two. Eisenkot, however, has reportedly told associates that he has decided not to enter politics for now and will not run in the upcoming elections.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (left), and then-Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot when Eisenkot learned he had won the appointment to head the Israel Defense Forces, November 27, 2014. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)

At the time, Ya’alon explained that upon evaluating the political field, he came to the conclusion that in its current form, the anti-Netanyahu camp would not be able to win more than 55 or so Knesset seats. Accordingly, a new political alliance would have to be created.

“We need a force that will speak to an audience that does not think in terms of right or left, but honest or corrupt, truth over falsehood, and that is what I am aiming for in the run-up to the election,” he told Channel 12 in a December 4 interview.

Ya’alon will be joining a crowded field, with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, former Finance Ministry accountant general Yaron Zelekha, former Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, former head of the Mossad intelligence agency Danny Yatom and former Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar all establishing new parties over the last few weeks, as Israel gears up for a fourth election in two years.

While a number of parties are undergoing splits, others are seeking to merge, with Yamina currently in negotiations with the Jewish Home faction, whose lone representative in the current Knesset, Rafi Peretz, jumped ship to become minister for Jerusalem affairs when Yamina stayed in the opposition.

“We are negotiating… to restore unity to religious Zionism,” Jewish Home said in a statement.

Outgoing Education Minister Naftali Bennett (L) speaks with newly appointed education minister Rafi Peretz during a ceremony in Jerusalem on June 26, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Talks with [Yamina leader] Naftali Bennett are being conducted in a positive atmosphere, with the intention of uniting the ranks and working for the people of Israel, the Land of Israel and the Torah of Israel as we have in the past. We hope to close with Bennett soon,” the statement said.

According to Walla news, Peretz is considering retiring from political life, a move that has facilitated the possible reunion of Jewish Home and Yamina.

On Monday afternoon, Yamina and Sa’ar’s New Hope party announced that they had signed a vote-sharing agreement.

Vote-sharing agreements, which are widely used in Israeli elections, allow parties to ensure that extra votes they win that don’t add up to enough for a Knesset seat don’t go to waste. Instead a party is permitted to transfer these votes through a special agreement with another party.

Under law, the combined leftover votes go to the party closest to winning another seat, and are often sufficient to add that seat to its tally, making them potentially decisive in a close race.

The agreement came as Yamina has shifted away from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, with which it signed a vote-sharing deal in the previous election. But while Sa’ar has repeatedly vowed that he will not sit in a coalition with Netanyahu, Bennett has stopped short of entirely rejecting his former ally, saying that he aims to replace him as prime minister but not ruling out serving with or under him in a coalition.

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