Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir announced on Monday evening that his party will be running independently in the next election instead of merging with Betzalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party.
The move wasn’t a surprise for the public as there have been numerous reports in recent weeks that talks between Ben-Gvir and Smotrich have broken down.
Ben-Gvir criticized Smotrich during the press conference, claiming that he didn’t carry out negotiations seriously. ” In the past month and a half, I did everything in order to run together with my friends in the Religious Zionism party. At first, my friend Betzalel Smotrich refused to negotiate at all. Later, he supposedly agreed but now he’s demanding six out of eight slots on the list for himself. We’re significantly larger than him in every poll and in the public sphere but he claims three-quarters of the list for himself.”
Ben-Gvir continued by saying that although he conceded on leading the party and equal representation on the list, Smotrich refused to make any concessions. Furthermore, he said, he wants his party to be a home not just for the Religious Zionist sector, but for everyone who’s interested in his path – residents of the periphery, the north, south, traditional people, secular people, and Chareidim. “Unfortunately, despite all my concessions, Smotrich chose not to run together, because he mainly wants classic national-religious people,” Ben-Gvir claimed.
According to reports, Smotrich offered slots 2, 5, 9 and 10 to Otzma Yehudit candidates on a combined list, but Ben-Gvir, bolstered by his soaring popularity in recent polls, wants three spots in the top seven slots.
Recent polls show the Religious Zionism alliance gaining a record number of mandates, with one poll showing the alliance would win 13 seats if headed by Ben-Gvir. The polls likely have increased Ben-Gvir’s confidence that he could garner enough votes to pass the threshold in an independent run, something that he has failed at in the past more than once. Furthermore, a poll published on Sunday night by Channel 12 News shows the Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties gaining more mandates if they run separately, with Otzma Yehudit receiving eight mandates and Religious Zionism receiving five. The polls shows a united list of both parties receiving only 11 mandates.
Earlier on Monday, when the media reported that Ben-Gvir had announced he would be holding a press conference on Monday evening, Smotrich issued a statement urging Ben-Gvir not to run separately and to return to negotiations.
“While on a family vacation in the north, I’m sorry to hear from the media about the intention of my friend Itamar to announce a split from Religious Zionism this evening for an independent run,” Smotrich stated.
“My friend Itamar, this is a serious mistake. The national camp cannot afford splits and divisions and the risk of wasting votes, as unfortunately has happened several times. You know, Itamar, we ran together in the last elections and experienced tremendous success. We joined forces together in a single and united faction in Religious Zionism. In the last year, we waged an extraordinary struggle to overthrow this terrible dangerous government that relied on the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood terror group.”
“We have one more month until the closing of the lists. Return to the negotiations room. We’ll discuss everything, we’ll reach agreements on the best way to run together in order to maximize our strenths and and bring about the victory of the national camp.”
The deadline for the submission of party lists is September 14 so there is still a possibility that Ben-Gvir and Smotrich may renegotiate and run together.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)