Ahead of the upcoming elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced the unification of their Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu parties on Thursday.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Jerusalem’s Dan Panorama Hotel, Netanyahu and Lieberman hailed the move as an attempt to stabilize the government.
“Unification will give us the power to defend Israel. The power to defend against foreign security threats and the power to enact social and economic change within the country,” promised Netanyahu.
The PM also said that the joint party would be “based on true partnership,” stating that Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu ask Israel’s citizens to empower them to “withstand the security challenges at hand,” headed by the threat of a nuclear Iran.
For his part, Lieberman indicated the move represented a de facto reform in Israel’s system of governance, saying: “Today, we have in fact preceded legislation with a practical move. We will complete this move in the next Knesset.”
Officials close to Lieberman confirmed that he will be number two on the party’s list. They also added that the division of power between Netanyahu and Lieberman will be based on the current composition of the Knesset.
Yisrael Beiteinu officials estimate that the unification should earn them at least 50 mandates in the upcoming election, and allow the new party to create a strong, stable government, without having to cater to other partie’s [sic] demands in exchange for votes.
Following on this:
–Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich said Israel’s centrist parties must unite to challenge the new list. I suppose this would include Kadima and Yair Lapid’s party Yesh Atid.
“Netanyahu knew that the election’s results weren’t settled, and so he acted accordingly,” Yacimovich said, appealing the “many Likud voters who lost a political home today. Tonight they found themselves in a scenario they could have imagined in their worst nightmares – in a party headed by Yvette Lieberman.”
Recent polls have indicated a drop in Likud support rates with the party winning only 24-25 Knesset seats. A senior party officials said that Netanyahu was worried that “Lieberman would run away after the election and therefore decided on an instant merger.”
–Likud’s Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, apparently wary of the agreement, said, “This isn’t a joint party, but a joint list.” A distinction without a difference?
–Likud MK Michael Eitan was more outspoken in his opposition and called on Likud committee members to reject the unification.
“This agreement, if it goes into effect, it will destroy the Likud movement, and threaten Israeli democracy,” said Eitan.
It seems he’s not the only Likudnik who is unhappy.
–Jeffrey Goldberg suggests this is a sign that Israel may be moving toward a two-party system of sorts, and will have a moderating effect on Israeli politics.
[H]ere’s my fantasy: A unity government of the mainly secular Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party and a new, mostly secular centrist party that would have the votes to actually make progress on synagogue-state separation issues. Israel can’t afford to subsidize the ultra-Orthodox sector anymore, and the Orthodox parties have been granted much too much social and religious power. Secular and non-Orthodox Israelis have to take a stand against creeping fundamentalism (galloping fundamentalism, actually). This may be the best chance, and it may be the last chance. I’m not hopeful, because, why be hopeful? But there’s a chance.
What do our Israeli readers think?