Though it did not make many headlines, and, in fact, only formalized a deal that was basically hammered out a month and a half ago, the Likud has now officially merged with Effi Eitam’s Religious Zionist Ahi Party. This represents a major step in the (in my mind, very happy) trend that began several elections ago: the decrease in the degree to which RZ voters see their “natural home” as being in the NRP (or whatever it’s called these days), though most see the merger between Meimad and the Green Party as something little more than cute. The trend has not reached its culmination yet, but it is very clearly moving toward it.
The trend signifies that the Religious-Zionist community does not see its own needs, narrowly defines, as the primary content of its platform. Rather, it recognizes its needs (religious infrastructure; “schules, schools, and pools” as I like to call it) as one element of a broader national agenda, and, to an ever increasing degree, votes accordingly.
The main parties have noted this (ironically, the first to do so, Labor, is the only remaining “major” party without a significant RZ presence on its list) and, accordingly, have filled their lists with RZ candidates and made promises accordingly.
The pact with Ahi bears this out considerably: A glance at the list of signatories – Zev Elkin, Yuli Edelstein, Benny Begin, Leah Ness, and Tzipi Hotobelli – demonstrates the degree to which religious candidates have been incorporated into the Likud rank-and-file (unsurprisingly, Feiglin was not invited to the signing ceremony). Additionally, for his part, Netanyahu made promises to the RZ community that are really not out of keeping with the Likud’s general platform: funding for RZ public schools (ok, that’s a partisan issue), taking care of Gush Katif evacuees (about time someone does), and preserving the Jewish character of the state (see the full article here).
The next big step would be the disbanding of the NRP (which may be really soon, depending on how well it does in the upcoming elections) and the regionalizing of elections (so that every regional candidate will have to campaign for the RZ public).
As to why I think this trend is important – that’s a whole other ball of wax.