Last night Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman announced that they would be joining their two parties together and running on a joint ticket in the next election.
To those of you unfamiliar, Avigdor Leiberman is head of Israel Beitenu, a strong right wing party with a lot of appeal to the Russian immigrant population. Leiberman was very active in the Likud and was the Director General of the Prime Ministers office after Netanyahu was elected the first time, but broke off to found his own party 15 years ago. He is known for his blunt talk and strong right wing views, and he frequently tells home truths that some Israelis (especially on the left) are uncomfortable hearing in public.
The coming together of the two parties is good news for the right wing in Israel. There are internal political reasons why each side decided to go ahead with the agreement to run together. Although it is widely thought that Netanyahu will win the elections coming up easily, this is paradoxically “dangerous” in Israeli elections. Since we vote for a party and not a Prime Minister directly, a lot of Israelis will want to “have their cake and eat it too”. They will be happy for the Likud to win the most seats and have Netanyahu as the leader, but they would also want to vote for their “boutique” party. If they think he has an easy shot, then in the end there is a danger that the Likud will end up with less seats in the Knesset. This makes it harder for the leader to get anything done, since he needs to convince other parties to come into the coalition, which means compromise. Running with Israel Beitenu will ensure a lot of seats, and a right wing mandate. Avigdor Leiberman wins by running together since it gives his party more clout, especially for Leiberman himself. He will be able to pick his role in the next government, and he has established himself as the number two to Bibi already.
The “losers” are of course are the Likud “next generation” – the young leaders. Leiberman will overshadow them, and the inclusion of the Israel Beitenu list of possible Knesset members means even more competition for the top spots on the Knesset list. The primaries for the Likud list will be held on November 25th, and it will prove to be very interesting.