The united Likud-Yisrael Beytenu electoral list is set to face its first challenge on Monday, as the initiative will be taken to the former party’s central committee for a vote.
The agreement has yet to be put down on paper or signed by party chairmen Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the Likud and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman for Yisrael Beytenu, though the latter said they had been discussing it for almost a year and made a final decision two months ago.
Netanyahu is expected to face strong opposition from many committee members, with Government Services Minister Michael Eitan, who has spoken out against running with Yisrael Beytenu, calling for the vote to be conducted by secret ballot, saying that was the only way for it to be democratic.
Party sources estimated that opinions were evenly split on the unity deal, but that Netanyahu would not have trouble passing the agreement in the committee.
Liberman told reporters on Friday that he “understands Miki Eitan’s distress,” but was sure the Likud would support the joint list, as he spent the hours following its announcement on Thursday fielding congratulatory phone calls from Likud members.
The Likud and Yisrael Beytenu will run as a joint list but each party will remain independent. The list’s proposed name is “Likud Beytenu,” though it has not yet been authorized by the Likud central committee vote. An image on Netanyahu’s Facebook page, with the text “The power to lead,” listed the two parties separately.
Netanyahu will be first on the candidates list, followed by Liberman. After that, there will be two Likud candidates, followed by one from Yisrael Beytenu, a pattern that will repeat itself down the list.
Liberman denied that he and Netanyahu agreed to a rotation for the position of prime minister, but said he would like to be premier one day.
“I support Prime Minister Netanyahu for a full term – four years and nine months,” he said in an interview with Channel 2. “Every soldier must strive to be chief of staff, just as every politician wants, eventually, to stand at the top of the system. I’m not obsessed, but that is my goal.”
On Friday, the morning after Netanyahu and Liberman shocked their allies and adversaries with news of a united list for the 19th Knesset, the latter called a second press conference to answer reporters’ questions.
“There is no alternative. We will lead the country in the coming years,” he said. “We’re starting to reform the government system and get rid of slivers of parties that make demands. We are working for stability and governance.”
An online “flash poll” of 305 people conducted by Panels Politics on Thursday night showed the two parties dropping from the joint 42 Knesset seats they currently have to 33 after the coming election, and the leftand right-wing blocs tied at 60 each, a net loss for the Right.
However, in an interview with Channel 2 news, Liberman’s American political adviser, Arthur Finkelstein, who is expected to work with both parties in the election, the pollster said the joint list could get 45 seats “plus or minus two or three.”
“Each one adds a little to the other,” Finkelstein, a New Yorkbased Republican Party consultant, said. “Together they’re much stronger. This is good politics, good government and good for the Jewish people.”
Liberman, however, shrugged off the polls, saying increased stability in the next coalition was essential.
When asked about the Likud’s religious and traditional voters, the Yisrael Beytenu chairman said his party was not anti-religious, and that he realized that the Jewish people and the Jewish religion overlapped. He said, however, that Judaism should be separate from government, quoting a Russian proverb, “Closer to church, farther from God.”
Liberman also pointed out that he and Netanyahu differed on haredi enlistment in the IDF.
Meanwhile, Shlomo Maoz, former chief economist for the Excellence Nessuah investment house, announced on Saturday that he would run for a spot on the Likud list in the November 25 primary.
In January, Excellence Nessuah fired Maoz for making racially charged comments. Maoz, who was born in Iraq in 1946, had said, “Bank Leumi is a bank of white people” run by an “Ashkenazi elite.”
Maoz was also highly critical of the 2011 summer social protests, saying protesting do nothing, and people should act and work to help themselves.
Shas slammed Maoz and “Likud Beytenu,” saying that the economist advised Netanyahu when he was finance minister in 2005 and supported cutting government support to families.
“Those who do not have the money to start the month can find their home in Shas, which took care and continues to take care of the Jewish tradition and weaker sectors of society,” the party said.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.