Members of a rightwing faction within the religious-Zionist Bayit Yehudi party decided not to split from Naftali Bennett's leadership, thus ending speculation that current Housing Minister Uri Ariel would join former Shas leader Eli Yishai's new party to form a formidable right wing party.
The Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) is a joint list of three rightwing religious-Zionist parties which have historically run together under the banner of the National Union. Ariel's faction, Tkuma, voted late Saturday evening not to accept its chairman's proposal and remain unified under the Bayit Yehudi banner, despite Ariel's insistence the factions split.
The decision means that despite rumors the former Shas leader was wooing Uri Ariel to join his newly minted religious right wing party, formed on the backdrop of a massive rift within Shas, an ultra-Orthadox party, Ariel would remain within the religious-Zionist movement.
The result is that Yishai's offshoot Yachad party will be left alone to battle it out with Shas for religious voters, while a merger with Ariel's party could have opened the new party up to a wider array of religious and rightwing voters. Shas, and by proxy Yishai, are identified with Sephardic identity politics, while Ariel and his ilk with the Ashkenazi settler movement, thus further harming Yishai's attempt to attract a different type of rightist voters.
In a renewal of its partnership with the Bayit Yehudi, Tkuma managed to reserve the 2nd, 9th, 14th and 18th spots on the joint ticket.
Before the vote, Ariel vowed to accept any decision reached by the party, and after his bid to spilt the faction from the party failed to pass, he said "I believe we will all work together to do what is best for the right and for the Bayit Yehudi.
Describing the decision, the party said in a statement that it had decided to "remain an independent party within the political framework of the joint ticket."
Bennett and Ariel have been at odds for some time. In a recent bout, Bennett claimed that Ariel and his MKs were running late to party meetings on purpose, and after they arrived to one such meeting after it had already begun, Bennett reportedly shouted at them: "This is unacceptable – if you want to spilt, then spilt."
Members of Ariel's inner circle say that Bennett is leading the party in the wrong direction, while those close to Bennett say that Ariel is a "serial splitter."
Nonetheless, the two met last week to attempt to mend their ties and prevent a spit. Sources close to Bennett said the meeting went well and that some issues were resolved, but noted there will be additional meetings.