UPDATE 9 am Israel time Friday:
Everything is back to normal here in southern Israel. In the last 24 hours, we have “only” had four mortars launched by Palestinian terrorists trying to kill us. There were also two failed launches of rockets out of Gaza last night. We can expect that more rockets will begin to be fired this weekend as Eid al-Adha comes to an end; after all, Hamas knows that Israel will do nothing to stop the barrages.
A political earthquake occurred in Israel last night as the Likud Party led by Benjamin Netanyahu and the Yisrael Beiteinu Party led by Avigdor Lieberman have merged into “Likud Beiteinu”.
Perhaps the best summary of events was given by Yair Lapid, the leader of the new Aesh Atid (Torch of the Future) Party: Yachimovich is taking the Labor Party to the far left, and Netanyahu is taking Likud further to the right.
Why would Netanyahu want to merge with Lieberman?
In the last two weeks since Netanyahu announced new elections in January, most polls have shown public support for Likud beginning to dwindle. Simply put, Likud has suddenly looked “old.”
Yachimovich has been bringing new faces into the Labor Party everyday ranging from the leaders of last years’ social justice demonstrations to people like Peace Now’s Yariv Oppenheimer. Lapid has been adding new appealing faces from the mayor of Herzliya to the mayor of Dimona. Even Shas, the religious Sephardic party, pulled off a major coup this week when its current leader Eli Yishai and former leader Aryeh Deri agreed to reconcile for the sake of strengthening the Party.
Netanyahu had to do something quickly to remake Likud–and give it some momentum as well as media coverage. Nevertheless, there are multiple clouds hanging over the merger: the upcoming Likud Convention must agree to the deal, and many Likudniks have already expressed severe reservations; moreover, the Attorney General is set to announce his decision in two weeks on whether to indict Lieberman on old charges of “financial irregularities.”
A larger issue is whether Lieberman will “scare away” people who would have voted for Netanyahu and Likud. Based on conversations that your humble servant has had this morning with people in Israel, I would guess that this is a very real possibility in both directions. Already the extremely conservative National Union Party has begun courting disaffected Likud religious voters for whom Lieberman is too “secular”, and the Labor Party has begun courting Likud voters for whom Lieberman is too “nationalistic”.
Another extremely interesting issue is the international condemnation that will rain down on Netanyahu for uniting with Lieberman who is continually and bogusly castigated by those outside of Israel as a “far right extremist”.
In any case, two of the main candidates mentioned above–either or both of which will have to be included in the new coalition to be formed in January:
Lapid’s party can best be described as “center-left”. It is completely new and will probably garner from 8-12 seats.
Shas, which fashions itself as the defender of “poor families”–especially poor Sephardic religious ones– is virtually guaranteed 10-15 seats in every election. While Shas is always to the left on social issues, it is to the right on nationalistic issues and is currently in the Netanyahu coalition (Yishai is the Israel’s Interior Minister).
And what about some of the other big names?
Shaul Mofaz, the head of Kadima, is presiding over a party in the midst of disintegration.
Tzipi Livni will make a comeback; Yachimovich has reportedly offered her second spot on the Labor “list” and foreign ministership in a Labor government.
Ehud Olmert still hasn’t decided whether to run or not. Beset by legal troubles, he is delaying his decision until later this week. He and Livni could conceivably form a new party.
Ehud Barak seems to be going nowhere fast.
To summarize, here is a new chart of Israeli parties on the “left to right” political scale:
Far Left: Meretz and the Arab Parties (Balad, Hadash, United Arab List, Ta’al)
Left: Avodah (Labor), Kadima, Independence
Center–center left: Yesh Atid
Right: Likud Beiteinu
Far right: National Union (nationalist religious parties): Moledet, Hatikva, Eretz Yisrael Shelanu, Tkuma, Jewish Home
Left socially, right nationally: Shas
Undefined but usually voting with the right: Ashkenazi religious parties (Agudat Israel, Degel HaTorah)
I probably don’t have to tell regular readers of this blog who your humble servant plans to vote for–but I will give enterprising readers familiar with Israel a clue: “8:00 am in the kindergarten one block over from our house here in Ashdod”.
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