Unity Eludes Right Wing as Filing Deadline Passes

YERUSHALAYIM -
Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit at the Central Elections Committee on Thursday night. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The deadline for filing electoral lists passed on Thursday night, and with it the hopes for a grand coalition of the right-wing parties that might have ensured another term for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Despite intensive last-minute attempts to engineer a merger of Otzma Yehudit with the United Right, they filed separate lists, as did Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut the day before, a failure of political will that could cost as many as four seats if the smaller parties fall short of votes to enter the next Knesset.

It was a time for recriminations, each side accusing the other of allowing personal considerations to get in the way of reaching an agreement in the public interest.

“There were officials who, for reasons of ego, blew this matter up and I direct the blame at [United Right’s] Naftali Bennett. He apparently has an agreement with [Blue and White No. 2] Yair Lapid, and I really hope that he doesn’t establish a unity government with him,” Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir told reporters.

United Right MK Betzalel Smotrich put the blame on Otzma Yehudit. “[They] were concerned with showing us up, not with accepting our offer that would have for sure gotten them an MK into the Kneeset. They preferred to go on an irresponsible adventure that would leave them on the outside and throw right-wing votes to the garbage. And all over ego? If that is the case, then they really are not ripe to enter the Knesset. Period.”

“There is one grownup in all this business and that is Prime Minister Netanyahu. His envoy [Likud MK] David Bitan is here and asked us for [another] five minutes,” Otzma leader Ben Gvir told reporters.

But Bitan couldn’t salvage it either.

United Right leader Ayelet Shaked said they worked hard for a merger agreement. “We made tremendous efforts in recent days to save as many right-wing votes in the upcoming elections,” she said.

A poll conducted by Camil Fuchs for Channel 13 found that separate runs by Zehut and Otzma Yehudit will likely cost the right-wing the equivalent of four seats.

Two-thirds of the votes will go to Zehut, the poll showed, with votes enough for just 1.3 seats for Otzma, leaving both out of the Knesset and possibly leaving Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu once again short of a ruling majority come September.