Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked on Saturday evening to secure the 28th and 36th spots on the Likud's Knesset list for candidates of his choosing, in addition to the 21st spot he had already secured.
Netanyahu's request, which will be brought before the Likud's Central Committee for approval on Tuesday when the ruling party holds its primary elections, has sparked a wave of speculations about a possible team-up in the right-wing camp.
Some political commentators say that Netanyahu is trying to dilute an existing right-wing party, such as Jewish Home, which suffered a blow when ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked left to start their New Right Party. Another possibility is that the prime minister is preparing the ground to ask for higher spots on the list at a later date, possibly to bring in "star power" like Bennett and Shaked.
Either way, Likud officials say Netanyahu is waiting to see whether there are any further team ups in the center-left bloc, as well as what the last polls before the deadline say, before deciding which spots to secure on the Likud's Knesset list and whether to present additional names for the approval of the Likud Central Committee.
According to recent internal polling done by the Likud Party, joining forces with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu Party is not electorally worthwhile, while teaming up with Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beytenu Party might actually cause the Likud to lose a Knesset seat to Yair Lapid or Benny Gantz, and so both of these options are unlikely.
At the moment, Netanyahu is focusing on examining Israel Resilience Party leader Benny Gantz's moves and formulating an appropriate response.
Meanwhile, Gantz is holding behind-the-scenes talks with Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid on possible cooperation between their two parties. The main obstacle they face is the question of who will lead the bloc should they join forces. Both Gantz and Lapid have already stated they have no intention of forgoing the leadership.
"Not a single staffer thinks Lapid should renounce the leadership after seven years of hard work and battles fought in the political system," a Yesh Atid official said.
Still, another source said, "Gantz and Lapid see a partnership as possible and there are ongoing talks between the two. They are expected to continue negotiating until the deadline on February 21."
Officials involved in the negotiations between Gantz and Lapid said the former IDF chief is keeping his talks with Lapid low key, since latest polls showed Gantz could go "head-to-head" against Netanyahu even without joining forces with Lapid.
Yesh Atid faction chairman Ofer Shelah confirmed Saturday that Gantz and Lapid are holding talks, saying that a final decision on whether to join forces will be made in the next two weeks.
"We know what we've been offering our electorate for four years. A team up (with Gantz) should be based on agreed guidelines," Shelah said.
"The most suitable alternative to replace the Likud Party is Yesh Atid headed by Yair Lapid, and (Yesh Atid) should be the one leading those who wish to bring about a change," he said.
According to political sources, Gantz's main dilemma is whether to join forces with Knesset member Orly Levy-Abekasis and her party Gesher—and by doing so adding a female voice with a social agenda that his Israel Resilience Party lacks—or with Lapid, with whom Gantz has yet to resolve several disagreements.
If he joins forces with Levy-Abekasis, Gantz won't be able to team up with Lapid. Levy-Abekasis, who left the Yisrael Beytenu Party in the midst of the Knesset's term, is barred by law from joining an existing party and can only join a new party.