JERUSALEM -– Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced Thursday night that their political parties would run on the same ticket in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The alliance between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu creates a potentially powerful right-wing super bloc that many predict will form the foundation of the next coalition government.
"We must join forces for the sake of Israel’s future," Netanyahu said at a news conference announcing the alliance, which came as a surprise to many of both parties’ members. "A clear mandate will allow me to focus on what’s really important."
Though the two parties have worked together in the same coalition since Netanyahu’s election in 2009 and were widely expected to continue that partnership, the closer alliance marks the first time that the parties will offer a consolidated list of candidates.
"This move will sharpen the differences between right and left, and it will boost our capacity to govern, and to grapple with the challenges facing Israel," said Education Minister Gideon Saar, a Likud member.
He said the parties would not be formally merging.
Analysts viewed the move as a preemptive strike against Israel’s centrist and leftist parties, which are also considering forming a super bloc to challenge Netanyahu. Recent polls predict the revitalized Labor Party could win the second-highest number of seats in the next Knesset.
Although Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich had previously hinted she would not rule out joining a Likud-led coalition, she said Thursday that the alliance with Lieberman made such a step unlikely.
Some liberal politicians welcomed the alliance, predicting it would cause many moderate Likud members to abandon the party.
"It’s a great opportunity for us in the center," said lawmaker Isaac Herzog of the Labor Party, calling the alliance "a North Pole of extremism."
Several moderate Likud Party members –- who complained they first learned about the alliance in the media –- vowed to oppose the joint list because they did not want to run on the same ticket as Lieberman’s nationalist party.
"We’re repulsed by this partnership with Lieberman," one Likud official told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "I don't want to run with a person like Lieberman, with the kind of values he stands for."
Lieberman’s party has at times advocated expelling Israeli Arabs to the West Bank and opposed making concessions to draw Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Lieberman is also fighting a criminal indictment over allegations that he accepted bribes.
Israeli media speculated that as part of the deal, Lieberman might be allowed to serve as prime minister during the final year of the next government, but officials denied the reports.
-- Edmund Sanders
Photo: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint news conference in Jerusalem on Thursday. Lior Mizrahi / Agence France-Presse