A confluence of events have made the upcoming Knesset elections the perfect opportunity for the radical right to bring its ideas into the Israeli political mainstream. Small far-right parties need to unite in order to pass the electoral threshold; if they do they could end up as a formidable bloc. Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu is desperate to hold onto the premiership; any willing party is welcome to join Likud in the next coalition. And Netanyahu is already pandering to the most extreme voters.

The February 21 deadline for submitting final party lists is fast approaching. A series of breakups early in the campaign season have left small factions treading water around the electoral threshold. This is especially true in the case of the radical right. The national-religious Bayit Yehudi lost its two superstars, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, who jumped ship to establish Hayamin Hehadash (more on them later). The rump party left in their wake contained its most extreme subgroup, Tkuma, headed up by Bezalel Smotrich. Then the list risked splitting again, with Rabbi Rafi Peretz handed the reins to Bayit Yehudi (a job Smotrich wanted) and forced to renegotiate the umbrella Bayit Yehudi relationship with Tkuma.

There should be no mistaking just how extreme Tkuma is. Faction leader Bezalel Smotrich espouses openly racist and homophobic views without any of the usual sugarcoating. Tkuma supports Israeli annexation of the entire West Bank, going even further than Bennett and Shaked, whose aim to absorb Area C (60 percent of the land) is itself absurd. Meanwhile, Smotrich co-founded the NGO Regavim, which advocates against Bedouin building within Israel and petitions for the destruction of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories. The group already receives funding from local governments in the West Bank settlements.

Two of Bayit Yehudi’s five seats are currently held by Tkuma members. Neither half of the list can safely expect to enter the Knesset without the other, and even together the outcome is far from certain. The party could try to link up with Likud, but Netanyahu prefers a distinct far-right list run to ensure he has partners to form a government with.

As Bayit Yehudi works out its own internal disputes, Tkuma may also seek an alliance with Otzma Yehudit, the party of Baruch Marzel. Marzel got his start in the now-illegal Kach party of fundamentalist Rabbi Meir Kahane. During the 2015 election, the Supreme Court blocked an attempt to bar Marzel from running, though he ultimately failed to pass the electoral threshold anyways. On launching Otzma Yehudit in 2017, Marzel put forth a very public endorsement of ethnic cleansing, elaborating on his plan to expel two million Palestinians from Israel and the West Bank. Smotrich is pushing the idea of a merger between Tkuma, Bayit Yehudi, Otzma Yehudit, and Yachad (former Shas leader Eli Yishai’s party). Oren Hazan, the Trump-adoring selfie-taking MK known for his incendiary rhetoric, is also eyeing such a united grouping after his poor performance in last week’s Likud primary. The national-religious outlet Channel 7 claims such a joint list could yield anywhere from seven to thirteen seats in the Knesset, making them a central player in a right-wing government. For context, Avigdor Liberman received the defense ministry with just six seats for his Yisrael Beiteinu party. Bayit Yehudi got the education, diaspora affairs, and justice ministries with eight. Imagine Smotrich or Marzel holding any of these portfolios.

Amid discussions of a united far-right list, Smotrich has accused Bennett of abandoning the national-religious camp. But Bennett is a not-too-distant ideological cousin of the smaller right-wing parties. Hayamin Hehadash’s name means “the new right,” yet, as Guy Frenkel previously wrote, there is nothing new about it. West Bank Area C annexation, which would necessitate the formalization of an apartheid regime, is a central plank for the party. Other Hayamin Hehadash candidates include Shuli Mualem, an MK with theocratic leanings, and Caroline Glick, who supports annexing the West Bank in its entirety with a political litmus test for Palestinian residents. Thus, the strongest distinction between Hayamin Hehadash members from their peers in the smaller rightist lists is that Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked are telegenic and make a point of presenting a cleaner, camera-friendly image.

In the past, Benjamin Netanyahu might have sought a unity government with centrist parties, as he did in 2013, rather than join up with the radical right. This is not so much because Netanyahu feels a moral obligation to keep extremist groups out of government. Rather, he prefers concentrating power in his own office, and being beholden to special interests like the settlers leaves Netanyahu less in control. But Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni proved to be politically unreliable partners for the Likud leader, and so the prime minister is unlikely to return to this option or to form a government with newcomer Benny Gantz, his main rival in the center. Meanwhile, with the attorney general closing in on Netanyahu and indictments pending against him on multiple corruption charges, his political calculus has changed. Netanyahu feels a strong reelection will make the legal cases against him more difficult to pursue. Whether or not his belief is justified, he seem himself as fighting for his political survival and for his freedom, and so his first priority is retaining the premiership and building a solid right-wing coalition. Many right wing votes will be wasted if small factions like Tkuma, Otzma, and Yachad run alone and fail to cross the threshold. Hence why the prime minister rejected an electoral partnership with these parties and is instead explicitly nudging the far-right to organize a unified list separate from Likud.

Likud’s own campaigning reflects this rightward tilt. 28 of 30 incumbent Likud MKs have signed statements supporting annexation. Netanyahu refrained from doing so, but he is hardly playing the moderate. Recently, in a private meeting with religious Zionist journalists, Netanyahu promised to demolish the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar soon in a bid to appeal to Israel’s furthest right elements. The Israeli government views Khan al Ahmar as illegally built, though it is notoriously difficult for Palestinians in the occupied territories to receive building permits. In 2018, 102 such construction plans were submitted to the Israeli civil administration with only five approved, covering 0.03 percent of Area C. Speaking so cavalierly about rendering disenfranchised people homeless is exceedingly callous and doing so as an election strategy is a mark of great cruelty; there is simply no other way to cut it. It’s a page right out of the Regavim playbook that would make Bezalel Smotrich proud. Of course, it would be unfair to Netanyahu to restrict this charge to him. Liberman, Bennett, and Shaked have all previously leveraged Khan al Ahmar as a wedge issue to prove themselves more authentically right-wing than Netanyahu.

None of the aforementioned trends are new, but in the past, these most radical elements were sometimes kept to the margins of Israeli public discourse. Not this time. As Netanyahu feels more cornered by his political rivals and the justice system, and if the far-right factions do run a joint list, expect the vitriol to only increase.