Religious Zionism party split into three; negotiations continues
Israel’s far-right Religious Zionism party split into three separate factions on as prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu continues the coalition negotiations.
The Religious Zionism party split leaves Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power and the Noam faction.
The Israeli parliament (Knesset) Arrangements Committee approved the request to split, leaving Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism, Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power and the Noam faction, led by Avi Maoz. Combined, the slate won 14 seats in the November election, but now the parties hold seven, six and one seats respectively.
This comes amid stalled coalition negotiations between Netanyahu and Smotrich, whose demand for specific ministry positions are being rebuffed by the Likud leader, and that that no breakthrough was made in negotiations about ministerial positions. Smotrich has requested either the Finance Ministry – which the ultra-Orthodox Shas party is also asking for – or the Defense Ministry.
Smotrich’s request for the defense portfolio has given Netanyahu pause, as the United States reportedly objects to the appointment. This could be in part due to the far-right lawmaker’s open desire to annex parts of the West Bank, which the White House has said it would “fight.”
Yet the finance portfolio may be open to Smotrich, as Shas leader Aryeh Deri might be blocked from the position due to him currently serving a suspended sentence. Deri may appeal to the Central Elections Committee, however, in an attempt to be approved for the role.
Smotrich’s party split may reduce his ability to leverage in negotiations with Netanyahu, as Religious Zionism can no longer claim the status of the third-largest party. Still, Ben-Gvir has said he would act in solidarity with the far-right party.
The Religious Zionism leader said on Saturday he was canceling a planned trip to New York in order to bring about “the establishment of a fully right-wing government as quickly as possible.”