Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reestablishing the bloc of right-wing, religious parties that successfully prevented the formation of more centrist and secular coalitions after previous elections.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties were the first to sign on to Netanyahu’s loyalty pledge on Tuesday, agreeing that they will not independently join a government led by any party other than Likud after the March 23 election.
The document was supposed to be signed by Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party, but the leader of the far-right faction announced Tuesday that he had refused to do so, saying such pacts had not proven effective in producing right-wing governments.
“Our only loyalty is to [our] path and values, and we will only be part of a government that expresses them,” Smotrich’s party said in a statement.
However, Netanyahu did get the Religious Zionism Party to sign an agreement in which the latter pledged to recommend to President Reuven Rivlin after the election that the Likud leader be tapped to form the government. However, Smotrich did not go as far as to commit to sitting under Netanyahu as the Haredi parties’ leadership had done in their pact with the premier.
The resurrected bloc will almost certainly be smaller this time around, as it also won’t include Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, from which Smotrich split off last month. Bennett has campaigned aggressively against Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic and has presented himself as a ‘candidate for prime minister,’ despite recent polling numbers giving him less than half the number of seats Likud is slated to receive.
Nonetheless, the move will further complicate efforts by Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar — the leaders of the likely second- and third-largest parties, respectively — to form a government. If either performs well enough on election day and the right-wing bloc refuses to budge, the more centrist parties will be forced to look elsewhere for coalition partners, be it with Meretz, Labor or possibly the Joint List or Ra’am if the majority-Arab parties agree to offer support from the opposition. If not, and the right-wing, religious bloc doesn’t cobble together at least 61 seats next month, the country could well be headed for a fifth election in under three years.
Avigdor Liberman, who heads the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, blasted the reestablishment of the “messianic bloc” in a tweet calling on Lapid, Sa’ar and Bennett “to join my initiative and commit to forming a Zionist and liberal government without Shas and United Torah Judaism.”