Bennett denied reports that his party was merging with Zehut.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
Naftali Bennett of the New Right party denied earlier reports on Monday that he had reached an agreement with Moshe Feiglin of the Zehut party to run on a joint list for the September elections, Arutz7 reports.
“Recently, including today, there have been a number of appeals to us by respectable people like Moshe Feiglin and Bezalel Smotrich via tweets, posts, ultimatums, and baseless media reports,” the New Right said in a statement.
“As we stated a month ago, our position hasn’t changed: until the 15th of July, we will only be dealing with building up the liberal right-wing party of Israel.”
It had been reported earlier on Monday that after a month of intensive meetings, the leaders of the New Right and Zehut had reached an agreement in principle to form a technical bloc in order to preserve right-wing votes.
According to the report in Ynet, the main issue stopping Bennett and Feiglin from immediately signing on the dotted line was their disagreement over who should be number one.
Each claimed to be the biggest vote-getter. Bennett has pointed to the fact that the New Right garnered tens of thousands more votes than Zehut in April’s election. Feiglin countered that Bennett’s voters included his co-head Ayelet Shaked’s electorate, and it seems clear now that she will not be returning to the party.
The report said that Feiglin suggested that the two have a run-off among their members, and the winner would be the chairman. Although reports said that he made it an ultimatum, Feiglin categorically denied it on Monday.
“We don’t issue ultimatums,” he wrote on his Facebook page, “and I’m saddened by the fact that this is how the media presented this.”
Feiglin praised Bennett as having “done a great deal” for the country, adding, “A union of Zehut and the New Right is the right thing to do, and could go on to form the foundation for a new Israeli Republican party – a coherent combination of nationalism and liberalism, identity [Zehut] and liberty.”
The New Right is also championing liberalism, both economically and religiously. It called for “a liberal, right-wing bloc that combines all those who believe in a free economy, Judaism without coercion, and the integrity of the country.”
By numbers alone, if the two parties retain their voters, the combined list would easily pass the electoral threshold in September. But even if they lose some of Shaked’s followers, the hope is that by combining their strengths, the two will have a chance to poach voters away from those disappointed in the Likud and Moshe Kahlon, who merged his Kulanu party with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s party after the recent elections.
They also could be a viable alternative for moderate religious voters who are unhappy with the Union of Right-Wing Parties, which is run by more conservative religious figures and advised by a board of rabbis.
According to Ynet, the assumption had been that all final decisions will be made between the two leaders by the middle of the month.