Photo Credit: Flash 90
MK Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit political party and Chairman of the eligious Zionism party MK Bezalel Smotrich at an election campaign event in Sderot, October 26, 2022.

The Religious Zionism faction, comprised of the Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and Noam factions, on Sunday formally ended the unification it undertook prior to the recent national elections.

The Knesset Arrangements Committee approved the paperwork ending the alliance that was filed Sunday by party leaders Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism), Itamar Ben Gvir (Otzma Yehudit) and the Noam party.

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As a joint force, the right-wing faction won 14 mandates from the Israeli electorate. But as of Sunday, Religious Zionism will have seven seats, Otzma Yehudit will have six seats and the Noam party will have one seat in the 25th Knesset.

The split, which was part of the unification agreement prior to the elections, also comes as coalition negotiations have stalled between Smotrich and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who will serve — again — as prime minister.

The deadlock is due to Smotrich’s unwillingness to back down from his demand for the finance ministry — which the Shas party has asked for — or defense ministry, an appointment opposed by the Biden administration and which Netanyahu himself may not favor in light of his intention to expand the number of Arab states in the region signing on to the Abraham Accords “circle of peace.”

Although there are strategic political and financial benefits to the split, it has also relegated the individual parties to positions further down the coalition list. With seven seats, Religious Zionism is now tied with United Torah Judaism for fifth place, and Otzma Yehudit even further down. The Sephardic Orthodox Shas party has become the second-largest party in the coalition, after Likud.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.