JERUSALEM (VINnews) — The right-wing Israeli political party led by Naftali Bennett, known as Yemina, has seen a split Monday after Betzalel Smotrich, the former transport minister, decided to leave and form a religious Zionist party of his own. Smotrich had demanded a number of spots on the Yemina list but negotiations with Bennett did not provide a solution and Smotrich decided to leave the party.
The decision may be good for both sides. Bennett has striven to eschew the sectorial image he had previously as leader of religious Zionism and instead open his party to all walks of Israeli society. Leaving Smotrich in a pole position in the party would have undermined this attempt to create a party which caters to secularists, erstwhile Likud members and other center-right voters looking for an alternative to Netanyahu. In the meantime, Bennett and Saar have both succeeded in projecting themselves as alternative leaders and may even consider joining forces in order to eclipse Likud as the largest party and gain the upper hand in forming the next government.
Smotrich himself had always had aspirations of leading religious Zionists as well as catering to Chareidi nationalists and other splinter factions on the right-wing. Theoretically he could pick up the seats which were previously held by religious Zionists and even include Itamar Ben-Gvir on his list which would enable the popular lawyer to galvanize his voters and even enter the Knesset. Smotrich has a close relationship with Chareidi parties and their voters and could even garner support from Chareidim.
At present, with a plethora of new parties entering the fray, it is unclear whether any group – specifically the pro-Netanyahu and anti- Netanyahu factions – will be able to form a government after the March elections. However many more changes will occur in the coming weeks as Israel seeks to solidify its political future and emerge from COVID-19 as soon as possible. A successful end to the pandemic could serve the incumbent prime minister’s campaign but even he will find it hard to form a government after alienating so much of the electorate over the past year’s lockdowns which have paralyzed the economy and left 20% of Israelis unemployed.