Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman have
held secret talks on merging their parties on and off again for several
The closest they came to reaching a deal was in the aftermath of
the 2006 Second Lebanon War when the Likud had only 12 Knesset seats and
Netanyahu thought uniting the Right could help bring down then-prime minister
Ehud Olmert of Kadima.
A source involved in the talks back then said the
reason they broke down was that Netanyahu and Liberman could not overcome their personal disputes. Liberman instead briefly took his party
into Olmert’s government.
Now they have decided to pull the trigger on
the merger, which is again aimed at fighting Olmert and a potential merger of
forces on the Center-Left. For the gamble to succeed, the potential for
political gain must exceed the risks.
The new “Likud Beytenu” would have
to be greater than the sum of its parts to be worthwhile.
The main risk
is alienating voters from both parties.
There are moderates who vote
Likud who will be deterred by Liberman, and plenty of people vote for Yisrael
Beytenu because they consider Netanyahu too soft or don’t like him
The main benefit is the potential to create a megaparty that
can overcome any challenge. If Israel is headed to inevitable electoral reform,
better to begin efforts toward something closer to a twoparty system now rather
But there is also a deeper, sociological, benefit to the
merger. The Likud’s traditional poor Sephardi voters, who fought bitterly over
jobs with Russian immigrants upon their arrival, are now uniting with
The merger indicates that the project of integrating the immigrants
into Israeli society begun by former Likud prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, whose
son Yair is in Yisrael Beytenu, has succeeded.
Yisrael Beytenu ran two
elections ago under the slogan Da Liberman. The success of the merger will
indicate whether the time for Da Bibi has come.