PM, FM announce Likud, Yisrael Beytenu union

Netanyahu, Liberman say parties to run together for 19th Knesset; Yacimovich, Mofaz call for Center to unite forces.

Liberman and Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
Liberman and Netanyahu 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
The Likud and Yisrael Beytenu will run together for the 19th Knesset, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman announced on Thursday night.
In a brief press conference at a Jerusalem hotel, Netanyahu and Liberman refused to answer any questions regarding the order of the candidates on the joint Knesset list, but a Likud source said Netanyahu would be first, followed by Liberman, then two Likud MKs, followed by a member of Yisrael Beytenu.
Both parties denied that the foreign minister and the prime minister would have a rotation for the top spot, saying that Netanyahu would lead Israel for 10 more years.
“We are ahead of difficult challenges and it is time to unite powers for the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “One ticket will strengthen the government, it will strengthen the prime minister, and it will strengthen the country.
“We are asking the public for a mandate to deal with the security threats, at the top of which is stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and fighting terrorism. We are asking for a mandate from the public to continue the changes in the economy, in education and in the need to lower the cost of living,” the prime minister said.
Netanyahu thanked Liberman, who is also the chairman of Yisrael Beytenu, for putting his “personal considerations” aside for the good of the country.
Liberman credited the stability of the coalition for allowing the current government to last for four years.
“We are not like the fashionable parties that are created for one term, we are a true party that will allow the government to deal with challenges in the best way possible,” he said.
“This coalition was the most stable in recent years and maybe even since ’48.”
A poll conducted by Liberman’s campaign adviser, Arthur Finkelstein, said the joint list would get 51 seats in the 19th Knesset. Currently, the two parties combined have 42 MKs.
Netanyahu’s merger with Liberman’s party, and the likelihood that Liberman will now be the No. 2 man in the joint list, will undoubtedly raise eyebrows in capitals around the world as to whether Netanyahu is still committed to the diplomatic process with President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.
In the past, Netanyahu’s advisers distanced Netanyahu from Liberman’s stance on these issues, saying that the foreign minister was only speaking for himself and his party.
For the past few months, Liberman has waged a campaign against Abbas, saying there will be no agreement with the Palestinians while he is still in power and that the PA president is engaging in “diplomatic terrorism.”
Immediately after Thursday’s dramatic announcement, an adviser to Netanyahu said the prime minister continues to call for a resumption of peace talks with the PA without preconditions.
“Netanyahu hopes that in his third term this will be possible,” the adviser said. “He is ready for a discussion of all the core issues with the Palestinians, and is ready to engage with Abbas.”
The adviser said that Liberman did not prevent Netanyahu from being willing to engage with Abbas in the past – an offer Abbas did not accept – and would not prevent him from doing so in the future.
The adviser said the merger could actually lead to a less strident tone on the Palestinian issue in the election campaign, since the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu would not be competing for the same voters, and therefore would not have to outdo themselves in their rhetoric.
Just as there were currently differences inside the Likud as to the best approach to the diplomatic process – such as between MKs Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely on one side, and Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor and Government Services Minister Michael Eitan on the other – so too would there be differences between Liberman and Netanyahu on these issues, the adviser said.
Meanwhile, Likud ministers expressed those differences of opinion on the unity deal.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, a close ally of Netanyahu, said the deal “will sharpen the argument between Right and Left, but beyond that, it has the potential to significantly strengthen our ability to govern and deal with great challenges ahead of Israel. We will be able to make changes in the government system and in equality in the burden of national service.”
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said the large united list would reduce pressures caused by sectorial parties.
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat insisted that the Likud would continue to keep its own values, and not adopt those of Yisrael Beytenu, but the move would increase the government’s stability.
Eitan called for the Likud central committee to reject the union, calling it “the end of Likud and a threat to Israeli democracy.
Netanyahu and Liberman announce Likud and Yisrael Beytenu uniting (Marc Israel Sellem)Netanyahu and Liberman announce Likud and Yisrael Beytenu uniting (Marc Israel Sellem)
“The liberal tradition of [former prime minister] Menachem Begin and [Likud ideological forbearer] Ze’ev Jabotinsky is over,” Eitan said. “This deal will bring extremism.”
Meanwhile, Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich and Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz called for the center of the political map to unite forces.
“What happened tonight shows the power in this election.
Netanyahu could tell that he was going to lose his job, and took a step inspired by political panic due to Labor’s strength,” Yacimovich said. “This step turns the Likud into Liberman’s party. Tonight Likud disappeared and instead there’s an extreme Liberman party.”
Mofaz proclaimed, “This is a wake-up call for the entire Center to unite and put ego aside. The Likud and Yisrael Beytenu formed an extremist party that has no hope.”
According to former Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni, it is now clear that this election is about “the future, image and values of the State of Israel, and a choice between an extreme, isolated country or a sane, Zionist one.
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“I was born in the Likud. I know what values it was supposed to represent and abandoned,” she added. “The choice should not be between extremes, but between the extreme and the Zionist Center, which believes in a Jewish, democratic and balanced Israel.”
Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid said the Labor party has been shifting farther to the extreme Left, and the new deal with Liberman pushes Likud to the extreme Right, ending the days of “the Likud of Menachem Begin.”
Lapid also said it was a loss for the country’s majority, the middle of the road Israelis.
Shas said the Netanyahu- Liberman union made choices easier for voters.
“Now it is clear to all that only one family is concerned about the weaker members of society and our Jewish tradition,” a party spokesman said. “In the next election, whoever cares about the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and the prevention of economic decrees against the weaker sector has only one address: A strong, united Shas,” the party said.
Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.