Israel's centrist parties must unite to challenge the newly announced unification of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu factions, Labor leader Shelley Yacimovich said on Thursday.
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu and Lieberman announced the move in a joint press conference in Jerusalem, with the premier saying that the joint party would be able to stabilize Israel's government and allow it to deal with the security and economical challenges ahead.
Commenting on the unification, Yacimovich said that Israel's "centrist forces must align with the Labor party," urging those factions to join the party that "offers an alternative to this extremist leadership."
"Netanyahu knew that the election's results weren't settled, and so he acted accordingly," Yacimovich said, appealing the "many Likud voters who lost a political home today. Tonight they found themselves in a scenario they could have imagined in their worst nightmares – in a party headed by [Avigdor] Yvet Lieberman."
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Speaking of the move, the Likud's Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said in an interview with Channel 2 earlier in the day that he was "aware of contacts on this issue. This isn't new," adding: "We must congratulate 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.
Likud MK Michael Eitan criticized the move, and called on Likud committee members to reject the unification. “This agreement, if it goes into effect, it will destroy the Likud movement, and threaten Israeli democracy,” said Eitan.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who also hails from the Likud, also congratulated the move, saying that it will "more clearly define the contest between left and right in the elections campaign."
Another senior Likud official, speaking on condition of anonymity, criticized the plan, saying: "What does Netanyahu think? That he's [Shas' spiritual leader Rabbi] Ovadia Yosef? That he can dictate to us who we run with?"
"We're repulsed by this partnership with Lieberman. I don't want to run with a person like Lieberman, with the kind of values he stands for," the Likud official added, saying that he thought "the joint list won't get together what Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu would have received if they went for elections as separate parties."
Netanyahu phoned the three senior Shas members who comprise the party’s leadership, Aryeh Deri, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, and Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias, to inform them of the unification.
Shas released a statement in response, which read, “We congratulate Yisrael Beiteinu and the Likud on the unification. Unification reinforces the stances and makes the choice more simple.”
Meretz party chairperson, Zahava Gal-On responded to the move as well. “ Unification with Lieberman has brought the fascism sitting in the back rows of the Likud to center stage. The Likud has become a strategic threat to Israeli democracy, and anyone who wishes to preserve it must declare that they will not join a ‘Biberman government,’” said Gal-On.