Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s “brilliant” move to merge with Israel Beyteinu looks worse every day. The merged party is dropping in the polls, and now Israel Beyteinu's leader says he wants to disband the merge the day after the elections, two weeks and two days away.
Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, speaking through a spokesman, told Haaretz that despite an agreement that the two factions will decide on their future one month after the elections, Lieberman said that that Israel Beyteinu will be independent from the Likud in the Knesset.
When Netanyahu and Lieberman announced the merger last month, it was hailed as a brilliant move to guarantee a center-right coalition that would dominate the coalition, but things have not worked out that way.
Likud holds 27 seats and Israel Beyteinu 15 seats in the current Knesset. Polls show a continuing decline for the merged parties after the elections, from the current 43 seats to as low as 33, mostly to the benefit of the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home)-Ichud Leumi (National Union) merged party and the Ichud Leumi spinoff Otzma Leyisrael.
Internal polls indicate that the Likud has been the loser in the polls, an unnamed Likud minister told the newspaper. He said the Likud has lost six seats while Lieberman lost only two or three. “Now it's clear to everyone that Lieberman made the better deal,” he was quoted as saying.
Netanyahu is clearly running scared.
Fearing the dominance of the Jewish Home-National Union faction, which polls show as possibly becoming the second largest party in the next Knesset, he began attacking Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) leader Naftali Bennett – until the tactic backfired.
On Sunday, he gave a rare lengthy interview with Voice of Israel public radio and had to defend himself against accusations from former Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) director Yuval Diskin that he has acted irresponsibly towards the Iranian nuclear threat.
Netanyahu’s image also was tarnished by none other than Yair Shamir, son of former Likud Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir and now the fourth-ranking candidate on the Israel Beyteinu list of candidates.
He accused Netanyahu of changing his opinions to suit his audience, a charge that mirrors the view of nationalists, who have pointed out that the Prime Minister for years has said one thing to the voters while deciding the opposite in the Knesset.
Most recently he backed the right of Jews to live in the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El and in Migron, but the government turned around and demolished homes in both communities.