If certain public opinion polls are correct, Netanyahu will become an untouchable prime minister following his election merger between the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu. Avigodr Lieberman will choose if he prefers to be Minister of Defense or continue as Minister of Foreign Affairs and extreme right policies will be implemented. However, it is difficult to predict how the political arena will look if the joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list collapses.
Avigdor Lieberman and Benjamin Netanyahu - will their election coalition survive? (Photo: samanews.com)
Nearly six months after shocking Israel’s political system by forming a unity government with the Kadima party, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu joined forces with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu ahead of the upcoming elections slated for January.
In a press conference held Thursday evening, the two men announced they were uniting the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu under one ticket.
"We shall ask the public for a mandate to lead Israel with force. It will empower the government, it will empower the prime minister and therefore the state. I hope to win the public's trust again and to get a clear mandate that will allow me to focus on what is important," Netanyahu said at the press conference held in Jerusalem.
"We face tremendous challenges and this is the time to join forces for the State of Israel's sake. That is why the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu will run together under one ticket in the next Knesset election," he added and concluded that "joining forces will give us the power to defend Israel and generate social and economic change."
Netanyahu and Lieberman refused to take questions from reporters after the announcement.
On Friday Lieberman held a press conference during whcih he explained that the move is part of an effort to change the Israeli political system by reducing the number of political parties represented in parliament in order to guarantee political stability. "We have to create a new political reality of big parties," he said.
At Friday’s press conference Lieberman stressed that the two parties will remain independent entities and that they will share the ticket for the sake of the elections only. He also explained that “talks about a unity deal began a year ago and the final decision was made almost two months ago," he told reporters.
Recent polls have indicated a drop in Likud support, with the party winning only 24-25 Knesset seats. A poll conducted by strategic advisor Arthur Finkelstein, who works with Yisrael Beiteinu, also showed a downward turn for the Likud.
According to polls published lately, Likud would receive fewer seats than Labor or a center-left unified list, perhaps losing as many as six or eight seats in a competition with Yisrael Beiteinu for the Russian immigrant vote and over civil issues, with Shas led by Aryeh Deri over social issues and with right-wing parties over the settlements.
On the other side, according to Finkelstein, a joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list may win 42 to 45 parliament seats in the upcoming elections. Currently the two lists together have 42 members of Knesset.
However, polls conducted immediately after the Lieberman and Netanyahu press conference, as well as those made during the weekend, are less optimistic. A poll conducted by Panels Politics immediately after the Thursday press conference, and published by Channel 2 News, claims the new ticket will be able to elect 33 parliament members while the Labour party headed by Sheli Yachimovich will receive 27 MKs. Another poll released over the weekend by Channel 10 News showed that 22 percent of Likud voters and 32 percent of Yisrael Beiteinu voters would not vote for a joint list.
There is also growing resistance inside the Likud to the new list. The main opposition to a unified Knesset list is now coming from prospective candidates who are vying for spots on the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu lists that are reserved for representatives of specific niche groups or geographical areas. They fear the merger will push them too far down on the candidates' list to be elected.
Michael Eitan (Likud), Minister for Improvement of Government Services and one of the most outspoken critics of the unified list, began last week to collect signatures of Likud central committee members to support a secret ballot on the matter. According to Eitan, the merger will liquidate the Likud and a secret ballot would increase the chances that the move would not pass.
On Sunday morning, the requisite 400 signatures of Likud central committee members were obtained to conduct such a secret ballot, although the timing of such a move has yet to be announced.
Dan Meridor, longtime central figure in the Likud, announced his intention to leave the party on basis of deep ideological disagreements with Lieberman.
After the election day, if Finkelstein is right Netanyahu will become an untouchable prime minister, Lieberman will choose if he prefers to be Minister of Defense or continue as Minister of Foreign Affairs and extreme right policies will be implemented. However, it is difficult to predict how the political arena will look if the joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list collapses.