One can always be sure that an Israeli election season can throw some curve balls and the current one is not disappointment. Today Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman decided to join forces in forming a right wing super party (or should that be a super right wing party) list in the upcoming elections.
Bibi’s Likud, currently the head of the coalition government and the largest predicted party in most polls, is the traditional center right party in Israeli Politics. Its ideological forefather being Jabotinsky, the father of revisionist Zionism, they have always been skeptical of land for peace but fiercely tethered to democracy.
Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytanu was founded to help represent the new Russian influx into Israel. Tracking slightly to the right of the Likud in their national security policy, they draw their political inspiration more from a Russian understanding of democracy and are fiercely secular in their approach.
Though most observes in the UK see the Israeli political spectrum as one of right to left in only the war and peace realm, the parties in Israel occupy different places depending on what right to left axis one is using.
By choosing to run with Lieberman, Bibi has decided to link with an avidly anti-religious party whose policies are not embedded in western democratic thought. In doing so he hopes that the sum of both parties will be big enough to create a mega party with enough clout to get what ever he wants through without having to give up too many unpopular concessions to the religious parties of Shas and UJT.
By focusing in on a secular-citizen agenda, the new party will attempt to form a collation without the religious parties of Shas and UJT, needing the center and even possibly Labor to come in. In doing so they can pledge real reform in the realm of church and state.
The issue of universal conscription and welfare in particular are of critical importance to the average Israeli voter, and Bibi’s concessions to the ultra-orthodox were giving him some electoral worries.
With this big move however there are some definite winners and losers:
Lieberman – Having always been seen as a powerful but second tier party leader, Lieberman has the chance to become Bibi’s heir apparent with even rumors of a Blair/Brown esk deal.
HaBayit Yehudi – The new mega right wing party is still nominally interested in negotiations, HaBayit Yehudi can now claim it is the only real home of the true rejectionist right wing. Additionally it will attract the religious right that will leave the Likud due to its adoption of the secularism of Lieberman.
Yesh Atid – The new center party might be able to pick up center right votes that were Likudniks due to their discomfort with Lieberman’s lack of respect for free speech and dissent.
Shas – Bibi’s other rock in his current government, they were not made aware of the deal and it has been clearly made to alienate the religious party. The union might have been pushed by the return of Arieyh Deri to a leadership position within Shas. He has always been comfortable working with the Center Left that could have spooked Bibi.
Moderates and the Religious Right in the Likud – Moderates in the Likud will now have no chance of getting high up enough on the list to make it into the Knesset. Additionally Gideon Sa’ar and Gilad Erdan, both jocking to be Bibi’s heir are going to be seriously out of sorts now that Lieberman is the new number 2. Both have been spinning it’s a joint list rather then a joint party.
It’s hard to see until new polls come out what the result of this move will be. Internal polling within Lieberman’s party sees this new party getting 51 seats. As voters come to terms with these two personalities coming together, it will add another twist and turn to this electoral cycle.
UPDATE: will make a bet that Likud’s very popular Sephardi Minister Moshe Kahlon left was due to this deal being worked out. Especially as its so anti-Shas