Courting Shaked, Yisrael Beytenu dangles offer to join right-wing bloc

Liberman offers New Right’s former justice minister No. 2 slot in his party to sweeten deal, in hopes of winning 3 more seats in March, but she spurns overture

Then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman and then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked arrive for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 17, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman and then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked arrive for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 17, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman has offered Ayelet Shaked the number two spot on his party’s list and said that if she joins his slate, he will commit to joining the right-wing bloc after the March elections if the results again leave him in position of kingmaker.

As part of the deal, Shaked would be allowed to demand any portfolio she wanted in the government that is within Yisrael Beytenu’s quota if the party joins a ruling coalition.

The offer was made several weeks ago, in the case that Israel was forced to go back to the polls for a third straight election, as happened when a Knesset deadline to come to an agreement expired last week. The vote is slated for March 2.

According to a source close to Yisrael Beytenu, it is believed that Shaked could bring at least an extra three seats to the party.

Following the September vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud formed a bloc with ultra-Orthodox parties and other right-wing parties to negotiate a coalition as an united bloc. The so-called bloc of 55 held firm between that election and last week’s dissolution of the Knesset, but there have been signs in recent days that it may not remain united if it fails to secure a majority in the next election.

A source close to Shaked confirmed to Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s sister site, that the offer had been made by Liberman.

The source said Shaked had refused the offer, instead wishing to remain with the joint Yamina slate, which in the last election comprised Naftali Bennett’s New Right, Rafi Peretz’s Jewish Home and Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union.

(L-R) Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Bezalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz announcing a merger between religious right-wing parties, to be called United Right, July 29, 2019. (Courtesy)

One idea being floated is to unite all the national religious parties ahead of next year’s election and to hold primaries to determine the order of the list. However, it is still unclear who would be allowed to participate in the primary. The extremist Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben Gvir has suggested the vote be open to anyone who defines themselves as a religious Zionist.

Peretz, who took over as head of Jewish Home in February, is against the idea. It is believed that he fears he would not do well in a vote and could as a result lose his portfolio as education minister. Shaked and Smotrich are in favor of such a vote, and the two discussed the possibility of open primaries at a meeting last week.

Last year, Shaked joined Bennett in bolting Jewish Home and starting the New Right to run in April 2019. The two referred to themselves as co-leaders of the fledgling faction, which highlighted their religious-secular partnership in addition to their shared right-wing positions.

However, they failed to cross the electoral threshold in a humbling defeat for Bennett that brought his party to merge ahead of the September elections with the national religious factions it had deserted months earlier.

Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett (L) at a press conference in Ramat Gan announcing Shaked as the new leader of the New Right party, July 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Polls suggest that the balance of power has shifted since then, and while Bennett has not ruled out joining forces with other influential politicians and parties, New Right this week started the latest election campaign on its own and without Shaked.

Bennett’s party said in a statement that it would be running under the slogan, “There’s pretend right, there’s sometimes right and there’s New Right — a secure right.”

The mantra apparently highlights Bennett’s new position as defense minister, which he assumed last month. Recent polls have indicated that the new credentials have contributed to an increase in his popularity, with New Right predicted to receive roughly seven seats.

Israelis will return to the ballot box for the third consecutive national election in 11 months on March 2 after its top politicians again failed to build a governing coalition, in the latest twist in a sprawling and unprecedented crisis that has left the country in political limbo for a year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and leader of the Yisrael Beytenu political party Avigdor Liberman on May 25, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The April 2019 election made history when by the end of May it became the first-ever Israeli election that failed to produce a government. At the time, Netanyahu was just one vote short of a majority. Liberman had refused to join over disagreements on the ultra-Orthodox enlistment law with Netanyahu’s Haredi political allies, precipitating the repeat vote in the fall.

Following the second elections, in September, neither Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party nor Netanyahu’s Likud had enough allies to form a government without the other or the support of the Yisrael Beytenu party, but the two parties could not finalize the terms for a unity coalition.

Netanyahu will be campaigning in the upcoming election in the shadow of criminal charges against him in three corruption probes, which were announced by the attorney general last month. He faces an indictment over bribery in one case, and fraud and breach of trust in the three cases. He denies all wrongdoing. He also faces an internal leadership challenge by Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar in a party primary on December 26.

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