In advance of the March elections, Israeli political parties are being reshuffled, with new ones being created and old ones breaking up or merging. To Haviv Rettig Gur, it is the coming apart of the Religious Zionist factions—distinct from the ḥaredi parties—that is likely to prove the most important of these new arrangements:
There are three parties representing the religious right-wing camp that falls under the “religious Zionism” catch-all. Yamina, led by Naftali Bennett, is the most successful of these in polls. A January 11 poll . . . gave it fourteen seats [in the next Knesset]. Then comes the National Union party led by Betzalel Smotrich, which will run on election day as the Religious Zionism party. The same poll gave it four seats—edging past the electoral threshold for the first time. . . . And finally, there’s Jewish Home, whose beleaguered leader Rafi Peretz has announced his retirement from politics, sparking a primary battle to replace him.
Barring a surprising volte-face by parties now running on a commitment not to sit [in a government led by the incumbent prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, Netanyahu has no coalition without Yamina—and may not have one with it.
But Bennett also has the option of throwing in his lot with the Likud renegade Gideon Sa’ar—giving his New Hope party enough seats to form a governing coalition. Thus, come March, Bennett could play kingmaker. Gur continues:
Bennett could get more from Sa’ar, whose party won’t be all that much larger than his own, than from a 30-seat Netanyahu. Bennett will also have reason to trust Sa’ar to deliver on his promises in a way few in the political system now trust Netanyahu.
Bennett, as noted, would be pleased to see the end of Netanyahu’s political career. But Smotrich, who represents a more right-wing branch of the religious-Zionist world, the so-called “ḥaredi-nationalist” . . . subculture, would not. Smotrich views the option of a center-right coalition sans Netanyahu as distasteful, an unnecessary surrender of right-wing policy goals.