Blue and White, New Hope said close to deal for joint run in elections

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party are reportedly in advanced negotiations to run as a joint slate in the upcoming election.

Members of the two parties have met to agree on the terms of a joint run in the November 1 vote, according to Hebrew media reports, which would see Gantz head the slate, with Sa’ar in second place.

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, who is being heavily courted by both Blue and White and Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and is seen as a major catch for either party due to his high public profile and general popularity, would take the third slot if he were to choose to run with a combined Blue and White-New Hope faction.

Eisenkot, who was military chief of staff from 2015 to 2019, is believed to have the ability to bring in voters from both the left and the right. The retired general was one of the most coveted figures during the March 2021 election cycle, with his name linked in reports to a number of parties, but he eventually decided not to run.

According to reports, the remaining places at the top of the slate would be held by Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, Culture Minister Chili Tropper, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, Blue and White’s Michael Biton and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin.

Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel and MK Zvi Hauser, whose Derech Eretz party joined New Hope after splitting off from a Blue and White alliance, will not have slots on the list, although it was unclear which side had made that reported decision.

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, right, is interviewed by Amos Yadlin at the Institute for National Security Studies annual conference in Tel Aviv on January 27, 2019. (INSS)

There was no official comment on the reports from either Blue and White or New Hope. Sa’ar has denied all recent reports of a potential merger.

In the current Knesset, Blue and White has eight seats and New Hope six. But in recent polls, Sa’ar’s party has been seen teetering on the edge of the electoral threshold.

With nearly four months remaining before Israelis head to the polls on November 1, a lot can change. And while Israel’s opinion polls can often be unreliable, they do influence the decision-making of politicians and voters, particularly in the run-up to the deadline when party lists must be finalized.

Regev hits out at Shaked

Meanwhile, Likud MK Miri Regev said Ayelet Shaked would not be given a reserved spot on the Likud slate ahead of the upcoming elections, to which Shaked, the new Yamina head, responded that she planned to lead her own party when the country goes to the polls.

“The person who will for sure not get a reserved spot is Ayelet Shaked,” Regev said in an interview with Channel 12 news on Saturday. “She took votes from the right and gave them to the left and I call on right-wingers not to vote for Ayelet Shaked.”

Likud MK Miri Regev after testifying to the state commission of inquiry into the tragedy at Mount Meron on May 24, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“She lost the opportunity at the end of the day to do the right thing, after she was part of the first Palestinian-Israeli government,” Regev said, referring to the fact that an Arab party, Ra’am, was part of the coalition.

“She lied to the public with [Naftali] Bennett,” she said as she further called on Likud members not to vote for Shaked if she were to run in the party’s primaries. Likud is one of the few political parties in Israel that allows rank-and-file members to pick some of the candidates in primaries.

In April, Likud officials reportedly offered Yamina lawmakers, including Shaked, who serves as interior minister, top reserved spots on its slate. Shaked previously served as a director of Benjamin Netanyahu’s political office and later held a senior ministerial portfolio in his government.

Shaked, responding to Regev, insisted that she intended to lead a right-wing party in the elections.

“The period between the dissolution of the Knesset and the official opening of the election campaign is devoted to me asking questions and learning, to the organization and building of the party’s power,” Shaked wrote in a Facebook post.

“Please note, I intend to run to the end, to lead a party that will be made up of right-wingers,” she wrote.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked in the plenum hall of the Knesset, on June 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shaked has been working to stabilize Yamina after becoming its leader last week. Former party leader Naftali Bennett stepped down as prime minister, announced he was leaving politics after his coalition crumbled, and handed the party to Shaked, his longtime political partner and Yamina’s No. 2. He ceded the premiership to Lapid, per their coalition agreement.

Bennett’s decision to partner with left-wing parties and the Islamist Ra’am in the coalition last year gave Israel a functioning government after a series of inconclusive elections, but some of the right-wing party’s voters were unhappy with the move, and three of its seven Knesset members quit the coalition.

Amichai Chikli refused to join the coalition from the outset in June 2021, saying it was straying too far from the party’s nationalist roots. Then in April this year, another lawmaker, Idit Silman, ditched the coalition, citing similar reasons and stripping Bennett of his majority in the Knesset. The final straw came last month when Yamina MK Nir Orbach declared he would not vote with the government, prompting the dissolution of the Knesset.

Party sources say Shaked has no intention of keeping Silman and Orbach in Yamina. It has been widely reported that Silman will get a reserved slot on the Likud list, but Orbach’s future is less clear.

Meanwhile, Yamina MK Abir Kara said Saturday he doesn’t plan to establish a new party ahead of the November elections.

“I am not forming a party,” he told Channel 12 news, but added that he is in favor of merging with other parties with similar values.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (R) and fellow Yamina MK Abir Kara present their plan to reduce the bureaucratic burden on small businesses, May 1, 2022. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Kara joined Yamina last year ahead of elections. He was the head of an influential protest group representing independent business owners, and the party hoped he would bring with him some of the group’s tens of thousands of supporters.

Yamina’s other remaining Knesset members are Shirley Pinto and Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana, a close ally of Bennett. It remained unclear whether Kahana would remain in a Yamina led by Shaked.

Last week, New Hope leader Sa’ar charged in a campaign salvo that Shaked would not hesitate to take her party into a government headed by Netanyahu should the opportunity arise after the upcoming elections.

A new poll published Friday predicted that Yamina and the left-wing Meretz — both members of the current coalition — would fall below the 3.25% electoral threshold required to enter the Knesset.

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