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Striking deal with Netanyahu, far-right party quits Israel election

Image of Former Deputy Knesset Speaker Moshe Feiglin [safa]
Former Israeli Member of the Knesset Moshe Feiglin, 13 April 2017 [safa]

The far-right Zehut party has quit Israel's election race after its leader, Moshe Feiglin, struck a deal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which will see him receive a ministerial position should the latter successfully form a government after 17 September.

In a joint press conference yesterday, Netanyahu and Feiglin announced that Zehut – a right-wing, libertarian party with fierce anti-Palestinian rhetoric – would bow out of Israel's upcoming general election.

Netanyahu said he sees Feiglin as "a minister in [his] government and as a partner to [his] vision," adding: "Our success depends on joining forces before and after the election, and therefore I call on Zehut voters to help us."

The pair reportedly met at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem yesterday, agreeing that Feiglin will receive a cabinet position – although not as finance or economy minister – should Netanyahu succeed in forming the next government.

Netanyahu also agreed to carry out some of Zehut's signature policy promises, including steps towards the legalisation of medical cannabis use in Israel. Netanyahu yesterday said that he has "decided to open the market to supervised [cannabis] import, which will be carried out by the relevant authorities".

Feiglin added that, according to his agreement with Netanyahu, small businesses in Israel would not pay taxes during the first two years after their establishment.

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Under the terms of the agreement, Zehut will not merge with Likud, but rather will drop out of the election race completely to ensure that no right-wing votes are wasted. In April's election, Zehut failed to cross the 3.25 per cent minimum threshold needed to sit in the Knesset, meaning the thousands of votes cast for the party were lost.

Given the tight margins Netanyahu is currently faced with in his bid to secure re-election, the deal will be seen as yet another attempt to cannibalise smaller right-wing parties in order to strengthen the Likud.

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Whether this will be enough to secure Netanyahu's re-election is, however, less than certain. A poll conducted in the wake of Netanyahu and Feiglin's announcement saw no shift in the projected number of seats, leaving Likud neck-and-neck with its biggest rival Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) on 31 and 30 seats respectively.

Commentators have now speculated that, in the little over two weeks remaining until election, day, Netanyahu will seek a similar arrangement with the ultra-right-wing Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, which could also fall below the electoral threshold.

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Yesterday's deal made no mention of Zehut's anti-Palestinian rhetoric and extreme policy positions on the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).

In its online policy document, Zehut openly advocates for a one-state solution in which the whole of historic Palestine will be named Israel. Palestinians would be granted citizenship if they agree to live in and pledge loyalty to such a state.

Zehut also advocates for scrapping the Oslo Accords, using the money it claims Israel would save by doing so to incentivise Palestinians in the oPt to emigrate.

Given that Netanyahu could try to fulfil his April election promise to annex parts of the West Bank – and with reports circulating that he is seeking the go-ahead of US President Donald Trump for such a move in the coming weeks – Zehut's policies could be integrated into the heart of the Israeli government should Netanyahu secure re-election.

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