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Is New Right on the way to merging with Likud?

Yamina officially split up on Thursday, amid persistent speculation that the New Right is on its way to merging with Likud.

The Knesset Arrangements Committee, which is the interim House Committee until there is a coalition, authorized the split in the Yamina list between New Right, consisting of MKs Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett and Matan Kahana, and Bayit Yehudi-National Union, made up of MKs Rafi Peretz, Bezalel Smotrich, Moti Yogev and Ofir Sofer.

Kahana presented the request to the committee, saying it goes with what the list promised its voters ahead of the election.

Smotrich and Sofer, from the National Union, have expressed hope in recent days that their party will officially merge with Bayit Yehudi. A merger was discussed after the elections in 2013 and 2015, as well, but never happened.

Meanwhile, Bennett has held several meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently, sparking rumors that they are discussing a joint venture of their own, namely, that the New Right would fold into the much-larger Likud in exchange for portfolios in the next government.

Bennett and Shaked were former senior aides to Netanyahu when the premier was opposition leader, but their time in his employ ended badly, and the duo continued to have poor relations with Netanyahu when they entered electoral politics several years later, in 2012. Shaked and Bennett have said that their past has not been a problem in working with Netanyahu in a coalition government, but have also complained that he has gone out of his way to hurt them politically.

A merger would help Likud by making a larger faction than the competing Blue and White, further bolstering Netanyahu’s claim to remaining prime minister. In addition, it would still allow Netanyahu form a unity government, should he choose to drop Bayit Yehudi, UTJ and Shas, because Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has only spoken out against “extremists,” using Smotrich as an example, but not Shaked or Bennett. Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman has said specifically that he has no problem with Shaked.

A New Right spokeswoman said there have been no offers from Likud to join, nor have there been any negotiations.

A source close to Bennett confirmed that there are no talks, and expressed skepticism that Likud could offer anything the New Right would consider worthwhile, because half of the government’s portfolios would go to Blue and White and nothing sufficiently senior would be left to give Bennett and Shaked.

The source pointed to Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon as an example. His party merged with Likud ahead of the September election, but it looks increasingly unlikely that he will return to the Finance Ministry in the next government.

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