Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman last night announced that their respective Likud and Yisrael Beitenu parties would run a joint list of candidates for January’s Israeli elections.
Although the two right-wing parties are current coalition partners, the merging of their Knesset factions comes as something of a surprise – as policy differences, include Yisrael Beitenu’s perceived uncompromising stance on peace talks with the Palestinians in comparison to Likud. Together, Likud and Yisrael Beitenu currently have 42 parliamentary seats and their internal polling reportedly indicates that a joint list would yield at least 50 seats, a total unparalleled in recent decades.
Announcing the agreement, Netanyahu said, “We are ahead of difficult challenges and it is time to unite powers for the State of Israel…One ticket will strengthen the government, it will strengthen the prime minister, and it will strengthen the country.”
Lieberman also emphasised the importance of governmental stability, saying “The joining of our forces presents a combination, as you said, of strength and unity. This is what the residents of Israel are expecting today….We’re providing a true alternative, and an opportunity for the citizens to stabilize leadership and government.”
Responding to the announcement, Labour Party leader Shelly Yachimovich claimed that the deal was “inspired by political panic due to Labour’s strength” and said “Tonight Likud disappeared and instead there’s an extreme Lieberman party.”
Kadima chairman and leader of the opposition Shaul Mofaz called for a galvanising of the country’s political centre, saying “This is a wake-up call for the entire Centre to unite and put ego aside. The Likud and Yisrael Beitenu formed an extremist party that has no hope.”
Meanwhile, former-foreign minister Tzipi Livni who has been tipped to help lead such a centrist bloc commented that the election is now about “the future, image and values of the State of Israel, and a choice between an extreme, isolated country or a sane, Zionist one.”