Far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir announced on Monday that his ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit Party will split from the Religious Zionist Party and run separately in the upcoming November election.
The bust-up comes after negotiations with the alliance's leader Bezalel Smotrich over the makeup of its slate for the upcoming polls ran into a cul-de-sac.
"I have tried everything I could to unite with my friends in the Religious Zionist Party and run together. But Smotrich refused to negotiate in good faith, so I declare Otzma Yehudit will run by separately in the elections," Ben Gvir said.
"At first, Smotrich refused to negotiate. Then he agreed, but he demanded six out of the eight forecasted seats. However, our party is bigger, so it is not really a good faith negotiation, he demands three-quarters of the party. I gave up the top seat, but it wasn't enough, I gave up the majority, but it still wasn't enough. We've worked very well together over the past year, and I still have hope that he will come to his senses and choose to continue together."
Smotrich, on his end, urged Ben Gvir to come back to the negotiating table, warning that a split could see one or both their parties fail to pass the electoral threshold, thus spelling doom for their right-wing-religious bloc's hopes of retaking the levers of power.
"Itamar, my friend, this is a bad move, the national bloc can't afford such split-ups and risk throwing votes as it did in the past," said Smotrich, referring to a collection of conservative and religious opposition parties led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"We ran together in the last elections, and it was a huge success. We also joined forces and overthrow this government that was leaning on Arab parties. There is still a month until the election lists are closed, come back to the negotiating table, and let us talk and reach an agreement on how to run together to maximize our support and bring victory to the national bloc."
According to officials familiar with the issue, Smotrich fears that if the Otzma Yehudit chief succeeds in securing at least three out of the top seven spots on the alliance's Knesset slate, he could use his newfound clout to demand a ministerial role from Netanyahu which could prompt the latter to form a coalition with more moderate factions.