Netanyahu: Joint ballot with Lieberman will allow Israel to face challenges ahead
Premier, FM announce move in joint press conference in Jerusalem; Lieberman: Move to unify Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu is tantamount to a reform in Israel's system of governance.
Ahead of the upcoming elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced the unification of their Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu parties on Thursday.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Jerusalem's Dan Panorama Hotel, Netanyahu and Lieberman hailed the move as an attempt to stabilize the government.
“Unification will give us the power to defend Israel. The power to defend against foreign security threats and the power to enact social and economic change within the country,” promised Netanyahu.
"And that is why we will be running to the next Knesset in one list, one ballot. We will ask the public to give us the mandate to powerfully lead Israel in the coming years," Netanyahu said, adding that the move would "strengthen the government, strengthen the prime minister, and, thus, strengthen the state."
The prime minister also said that the joint party would be "based on true partnership," stating that Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu ask Israel's citizens to empower them to "withstand the security challenges at hand," headed by the threat of a nuclear Iran.
For his part, Lieberman indicated the move represented a de facto reform in Israel's system of governance, saying: "Today, we have in fact preceded legislation with a practical move. We will complete this move in the next Knesset."
Officials close to Lieberman confirmed that he will be number two on the party’s list. They also added that the division of power between Netanyahu and Lieberman will be based on the current composition of the Knesset.
Yisrael Beiteinu officials estimate that the unification should earn them at least 50 mandates in the upcoming election, and allow the new party to create a strong, stable government, without having to cater to other partie’s demands in exchange for votes.
Commenting on the move earlier Thursday, Likud's Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said in an interview with Channel 2 that he was "aware of contacts on this issue. This isn't new," adding: "We must praise the agreement."
"This isn't a joint party, but a joint list," Erdan said, confirming that Netanyahu informed him of the move earlier in the day.
The planned unification could have a far-reaching influence on the makeup of Israel's next government, with estimates indicating that Netanyahu will commit to advance the civilian-secular agenda that dominates the Yisrael Beiteinu platform.
As part of the move, Netanyahu could even prefer to include other secular-minded parties, such as Yesh Atid, Kadima, and perhaps even Labor, over the long-running link to the Haredi parties.