In the most recent polls, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party was set to win by far the most seats in the next election. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party was polling in the top 4, depending on source, and at times it was suggested they could finish as high as second place.
So the combined Likud-Beiteinu voting list with Netanyahu at #1 and Lieberman at #2 should be unstoppable, right?
Perhaps not, though that’s certainly the theory that the party leadership is going with. The far-right Likud merging with the even more far-right Beiteinu, however, changes the political landscape considerably, and has everyone scrambling.
Though the secular far-right seems sewn up now, the merger threatens Likud’s claim to be on the “moderate” side of Israel’s far-right political spectrum, and Netanyahu can no longer seem like the sane choice simply by comparison with the ever-bellicose Lieberman when they are sharing a ticket and Lieberman is now seen as the “heir apparent” for Likud.
This could leave a lot of votes up for grabs, people who maybe were willing to live with Netanyahu-level hawkishness but not Lieberman-level aggression. This has several factions rethinking their campaign strategies.
Shas, the religious right party that has often allied with Likud in governments but is seen as a mortal enemy to Lieberman, who has regularly accused them of disloyalty, are hoping to court religious voters who traditionally supported Likud.
Partyless former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni is reportedly being courted for the number two spot in Labor, in hopes that her addition will make the new Barak-less Labor seem like a moderate center-left choice in an election with few moderate parties.
The other wild-card in all of this is the brand new Yesh Atid Party, the ideological heir to the free market liberal Shinui Party. Their leader, Yair Lapid, says that his party is not going to form any alliances with anyone else before the election, and suggests that the virtually destruction of Kadima and the right-ward shift of Likud means the majority of Israeli voters no longer identify with any of “yesterday’s parties.”
For the January election, this means all the other major parties are running against Likud-Beiteinu, and forming a government could be an all-or-nothing proposition for Netanyahu, as if his new bloc doesn’t win big from the merger it could find itself struggling to court any allies.