In his bid to form the next government in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu joined forces with Avigdor Lieberman and formed the Likud-Beiteinu list to contest the upcoming elections.
The move is based on Netanyahu’s reading of the polls that give the joint list 40-45 seats. If this materialises, the list will be the biggest in the Knesset and therefore Netanyahu will be the next prime minister of Israel.
However, splits and mergers are not uncommon in Israel. The political system and the existence of a plethora of political parties produced a splintered political scene.
Therefore, this merger is not the only one that is going to take place in weeks to come.
Promising as it may look, the joint list could backfire and produce a different outcome from that stated in the polls. This move may trigger a chain reaction that can affect Israeli politics and lead to the formation of counter lists.
Not surprisingly, the ascendance of the controversial Lieberman to the number two spot will push other actors to come up with a countermove. Pressure will be stepped up on both Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni to return to politics and head a counter list.
The feverish speculation dominant in Israel these days is that the only way to challenge this new list is by forming a coalition of centrist and leftists forces. But this is easier said than done. Olmert is still bogged down in some charges of corruption and is yet to confirm return to politics.
On top of that, it is not as if the Likud supporters were happy with the rise of Lieberman to this prominent position. Supporters of Likud of North African background may have a hard time seeing the Russians get preeminence in Israeli politics.
Even leaders such as Dan Merridor will have a difficult time digesting Lieberman’s catapult to the second place on the list.
Will they shift their support to other parties such as Shas?
At the same time, it is difficult to predict how the extreme right wing among Likud members will behave.
The bloc called “Feighlinim” within Likud will feel that Lieberman outflanks them. It remains to be seen, however, if this bloc will remain loyal to Likud or move to the right.
At the heart of Israeli politics is survival. I believe that the key objective of politicians in Israel is to survive politically.
As such, Netanyahu has been meticulously working to guarantee his reelection in the upcoming elections. So far, he is not concerned with the possible international reaction of this move.
Lieberman suffers from an image problem internationally, being seen as extremist and undemocratic.
It seems that Netanyahu is not thinking of the day after elections. A right-wing government with Lieberman as a deputy prime minister, and possibly prime minister, will have a hard time to push Israel’s strategic agenda, especially with Iran.
By taking the decision to run on the same ticket with Lieberman, Netanyahu’s chances of securing reelection look higher, but this course may lead to an undesired outcome.
The writer is a columnist at various Arab publications. This article was published in The Jordan Times on Oct. 29, 2012