Naftali Bennett with Betzalel Smotrich
Naftali Bennett with Betzalel SmotrichYonatan Sindel/Flash90

In anticipation of the upcoming elections, like in many previous elections, the Israeli right has declared allegiance to the principle of unity and running as one. So far, these statements have not proved themselves in reality.

Is there is a chance that something will change this time? We posed this question to Professor Asher Cohen of Bar Ilan University, an expert on Religious Zionism and the Israeli right.

Professor Cohen believes that there is actually a high probability that something will change this time. "In contrast to the past, when we had to wait until the end of the election campaign, the "Gevalt" campaign is already ingrained in the voters. In light of the fact that so many votes were lost, most of them to the right - about 300,000 votes - it will be difficult for any party to come to elections on the border of passing the threshold."

Professor Cohen said regarding the polls that "there are sampling errors and shifts of the last few days, and it would be a very big risk to run with five seats in the polls" and indeed "from what I heard from Bennett and Matan Kahana, the New Right is heading to a merger. The lists will be submitted on August 1st and during July, things will take shape."

Regarding negotiations for the mergers, Prof. Cohen says that if the discourse is between a party that is convinced that it passed the electoral threshold with five seats and a party of zero seats due to its failure to pass the threshold, the chances of negotiations are slight. On the other hand, if they look at the numerical data of 160,000 votes compared to 140,000 votes, the chances of a joint run by the New Right and the Union of Right-Wing Parties will be much greater.

"Every union, including the unification of the right, brings in votes but also loses votes. While Otzma Yehudit brought in some votes, its presence also cost an equal amount of votes to be lost. Each union has advantages and disadvantages. It's possible that a New Right supporter would vote for the party itself but wouldn't vote in the case of a merger due to [National Union chairman Bezalel] Smotrich. The parties will have to make calculations and consider it. Merging parties doesn't mean gaining enough votes for 12-14 seats."

Cohen believes that while "the arguments on the right don't look good, these are the arguments of the beginning of June. The arguments will be resolved and they'll agree on a merger in a month or so."

As to whether the personal differences between Naftali Bennett and Itamar Ben-Gvir will pose an obstacle to a merger, Cohen answers, "In politics, it's possible to compromise on everything. We've seen many different mergers. Does anyone remember that in 2013, Netanyahu and Liberman ran together? I don't believe that a merger between Ben-Gvir and Bennett is a big problem. The big problem is that many in Bayit Yehudi are angry at Bennett on a personal level. If they don't overcome this, we'll see a split again but the public won't agree to 300,000 of the right's votes being wasted again."

Cohen notes that the demographic advantage of the right is so great that it's capable of losing a range of votes due to the above factors and still survive.

And what about Feiglin's Zehut? "Following the election results, I don't think Feiglin will get close to 120,000 votes. People are in no hurry to waste their vote. There will be tens of thousands of his regular voters, but beyond that it's doubtful he'll end up wasting even half the votes he had previously if he decides to run alone."

"The greatest difficulty will be how to arrange so many people in realistic slots on the list. The merger will cost some votes so we're talking about fitting everyone in the first eight slots. It will be a bit complicated because there are many more than eight who see themselves as worthy of these places on the list."

Prof. Cohen also notes that all the current calculations of the negotiation methods within the right and the power struggles between the various parties are missing one crucial factor: the position of Ayelet Shaked. Shaked can leverage the power of Naftali Bennett - if she chooses to run together with him - to a significant amount of mandates, according to the polls. If this is indeed the case, Bennett's strength will increase in negotiations on places on the list. If Shaked chooses to do otherwise, the negotiations on the list will look very different.