Thursday’s union between the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu parties has resulted in a tie between the rightist and the centrist-leftist blocs, a preliminary poll released after the announcement found. The centrist-left, however, includes the Arab anti-Zionist parties.
The poll, conducted by the Panels Politics institute, was published on Channel 2 News Thursday night, just hours after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that their two parties will run in a joint list for the next Knesset.
It found that both the rightist bloc and the centrist-leftist bloc would achieve 60 seats in the elections. On the right side of the map, the joint Likud and Yisrael Beytenu list achieves 33 seats, the joint National Union-Jewish Home list receives 13 seats, Shas receives nine seats, and United Torah Judaism receives five.
On the other side of the map, the Labor party achieves 27 seats, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (Future) party receives 18 seats, Arab parties achieve ten seats, and Meretz achieves five. The poll found that both Kadima as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Independence party do not pass the electoral threshold.
The poll, however, is a preliminary one and future polls may show different results. Prior to Netanyahu and Lieberman’s announcement, Israeli media reported that the two conducted their own private polls which found that their union could give them as many as 50 seats.
The reactions to Thursday’s surprise announcement were mixed. While members of the two respective parties mostly welcomed the move, other parties, both right and left, criticized Netanyahu and Lieberman.
Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon (Likud) welcomed the move, saying, “This is a welcomed move, because the political system is very fragile and divided. Such joining of forces will give stability, strength and power. We will not be busy preserving coalitions and will be free to deal with the challenges facing us economically, socially, in security, governance and other areas. These challenges are not simple, and the stability will allow us to deal with them.”
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin also praised the move, saying that “the partnership between the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu will reduce the political pressures caused by the large number of sectarian parties that is growing over the years.”
The National Union party, however, said that the union of Likud and Yisrael Beytenu may drive away traditional and religious Jews, who object to Lieberman's "extreme secular" policies.
"Likud has just delivered a divorce decree to its traditional and religious voters," the party said in a statement.
MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) said that the union was a good thing because it exposed that the real right wing is neither Likud nor Yisrael Beytenu. "The good news is that this is an open union between the person who already agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and froze construction in Judea and Samaria for ten months, with the person who has already said he would even give the Palestinian state additional land at Israel's expense," he said – in a reference to Lieberman's plan for handing over the heavily Arab Wadi Ara region to the PLO, in exchange for other land to be handed over to Israel.
Naftali Bennett, who is vying for the leadership of the Jewish Home party, said that religious Zionism received "a great boost" today, and that the public must choose between a coalition of Netanyahu-Lieberman with the left, and a coalition between Netanyahu-Lieberman and the nationalist camp. This would make more religious Likud voters choose the Jewish Home.
The left also criticized the move. MK Shelly Yechimovich, head of the Labor party, voiced her dismay over it and came close to ruling out the possibility that she would join a coalition led by it in the next Knesset.
"I call upon all of the centrist forces on the Israeli political map to join the Labor party under my leadership, which is the only centrist party today, in order to prevent the Lieberman-Netanyahu party from ruling," she said.
MK Zehava Galon, who heads the leftist Meretz party, railed that the unification between Likud and Yisrael Beytenu will strengthen the nationalist wing – or "fascism," as she calls it.
"The fascism of Likud's back benches is now taking center stage," she warned in radio interviews, calling the combination between Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu and Lieberman "a Biberman government."
Former Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni said after the announcement, “I know the values the Likud is supposed to represent and abandoned. The choice should not be between the edges and the extremes, but between the extremes and the Zionist center, which believes in a Jewish, democratic and balanced Israel."