The ideological and political gaps between Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett and National Union Chairman Bezalel Smotrich remain large with no progress reported in the talks between them. At the same time, Yamina is currently surveying its potential voters to understand what agendas could bring them back from Gideon Sa’ar’s new party, Reshet Bet radio reported Wednesday morning.
According to the same report, Smotrich plans to rebrand his National Union and launch a separate campaign. Bennett, for his part, also intends to continue in a separate campaign from Smotrich. However, despite their separate campaigns, both are expected to call on each other to reunite at the last minute before the Knesset slates are submitted on February 4. The 24th Knesset election will be held on March 23.
A News12 survey published Tuesday night showed Yamina with 14 seats should the two partners run together. However, if Bennett and Smotrich were to split, Yamina would get 16 seats and the National Union would fall below the threshold vote with 2.3% (the required minimum is 3.25%).
Here are the two scenarios according to News12:
In other words, according to this one poll, some Netanyahu and Sa’ar voters would flock to Yamina if it rids itself of Bezalel Smotrich. If you recall, in the recent past it was Yamina that was hung out to dry below the threshold by its voters, while Smotrich and Rafi Peretz who were partnered in Habayit Hayehudi eked out five Knesset seats.
But Naftali Bennett has been able to boost his public image over the past year, both as Defense Minister—when he enlisted the IDF in combating effectively the first wave of the pandemic, and later as a responsible member of the loyal opposition, to the point where he was second only to Netanyahu in the polls as the best man to be the next prime minister.
All that good stuff collapsed after Gideon Sa’ar’s meteoric desertion of his home party, the Likud, taking four Likudnik MKs with him, including Bibi’s skilled strategist Ze’ev Elkin. Nevertheless, Yamina appears to be doing better than any national-religious party has ever done – in the polls, for now.
To maintain his position as the third-largest faction, Bennett must modify his previous platform, which stressed that for now the only thing that mattered was beating the pandemic. It became old news as soon as Netanyahu succeeded in making Israel the envy of the world in acquiring and administering the Covid-19 vaccines. Hence the Yamina private surveys intended to discover what its voters want. It may not be great leadership, but it’s practical politics.
Bennett will have to persuade his natural supporters, many of whom live in the liberated territories, that Netanyahu cannot be trusted to care for their interests, seeing as he abandoned his promises to apply sovereignty to some or all the Jewish settlements in favor of easy peace agreements with four or five Muslim and Buddhist countries.
Meanwhile, Bennett and Sa’ar have signed a vote surplus agreement, intended to prevent the loss of votes that remain unused after a party collects its seats. The agreement says that whichever of the two parties is closer to an additional seat would use both parties’ extra votes. Naturally, those surplus vote deals are done between parties that are close to one another ideologically. With a little bit of luck, Bennett and Sa’ar could go a long way together.