Photo Credit: Gili Yaari /Flash90
MK Betzalel Smotrich and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir on April 06, 2019.

On Thursday night, the deadline for submitting the lists for the September 17 elections, the political heirs of the NRP, a.k.a. Habayit Hayehudi, did not reach an agreement with Otzma Yehudit, which will be running alone.

Much has been written about the difficult relationships between the various factions inside the new United Right – the more stringent “Hardalim” vs. the lighter, nickel-yarmulke members affiliated with Naftali Bennett. But in the end they managed to unite. Not so for the failed negotiations between the United Right and Otzma Yehudit and Noam.

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A week’s worth of ultimatums from Otzma leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was arguing heatedly on every possible communication outlet in Israel that his supporters expect nothing less than the fourth and eighth places, or fifth and eleventh, or at least sixth and eleventh, has ended with Otzma running alone.

On the morning after that tense game of chicken between Ben-Gvir and United Right, it has become clear that refusing to accept the excitable lawyer’s demands – righteous as they may be, seeing as it was Otzma voters who dragged Habayit Hayehudi across the vote threshold back on April 9 – was not a failure of Ayelet Shaked, Rafi Pertez, Bezalel Smotrich and Naftali Bennett, it was their strategy.

From the very start, way back in the heated weeks of March, 2019, it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was pushing a union with Otzma on Smotrich et al. The gifted religious-Zionist leader told Netanyahu that if he wanted Ben-Gvir and Michael Ben-Ari so badly, he should put them on his slate. So Netanyahu came as close as the mainstream Likud could under the circumstances and secured a realistic spot on the Likud slate for former deputy DM Eli Ben-Dahan from Habayit Hayehudi, to make room for Otzma on their ticket.

Itamar Ben-Gvir (l) and Michael Ben-Ari (r) / Amir Levy/FLASH90

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court intervened and sent Ben-Ari home on dubious grounds, reversing a decision of the Knesset Election Committee (while also reversing the same committee’s decision on banning some serious anti-Israeli candidates). Ben-Gvir was stuck in the seventh spot, and stayed out of the Knesset.

Which was just fine with the folks who today make up the latest version of the NRP, who managed to stomach a popular secular woman at the helm, but were not inclined to let Otzman capture a significant presence on their list and later, inside their Knesset faction.

The only one who truly wanted Otzma inside the new rightwing party continued to be Netanyahu, because his interests at the moment have less to do with ideology and everything to do with his urgent need to get all the possible votes out there. As far as the PM is concerned, it doesn’t matter if Otzma is worth 70,000 votes (2 seats) as Ben-Gvir has been claiming, or half of that, as Bennett is asserting – a vote is a vote.

But the four politicians at the top of United Right were also concerned about being able to push their agenda in defense, justice, and education with Otzma MKs in their midst performing street theater at the Knesset plenum. It’s one thing to wake up after the election and realize you have an Oren Hazan in your faction – it’s entirely different to be forced to take in an Oren Hazan.

Incidentally, MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) announced Thursday night that she would appeal to the election committee to disqualify Otzma, saying: “There is no place for Kahanists in the Knesset.”

The condemnation tweets kept flying this week between Oztma and United Right, becoming nastier the closer it got to the deadline. Ben-Gvir finally tweeted that his was an alternative to the NRP which historically has been willing to compromise – proving his negotiations partners were right in stringing him along but not giving him an inch. There’s no politics without compromise.

The most amusing tweet came from Ben-Gvir after the deadline, when he called Netanyahu “the only grownup in the room.” The occasions when Ben-Gvir or any other member of Otzma and its predecessors over the years said something nice about Bibi have been very few and far between…

Ayelet Shaked, whose poll results have been very encouraging, giving her as much as 14 mandates, set the record straight on her Facebook page: “I wanted, very much, for this union to be even broader. Unfortunately, not everything could be helped. Not everyone knew how to be flexible and also give up some. The Otzma people, despite a generous offer that would have given them two Knesset members, chose not to unite. It’s their right, I’m sorry about it.”

And this is how you become the next woman prime minister of Israel.

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