Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon praised the merger of his right-wing Likud party with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beytenu party, saying Friday that the move would enhance the next administration’s ability to govern.
Ya’alon told Israel Radio that there are many challenges facing the state and the way to deal with them is through a coalition of larger factions, not through a conglomerate of several smaller parties.
He expressed hope that other parties would follow suit, though it was unclear whether he was referring to a potential center-left bloc that would potentially include the Labor party and Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid faction.
Kadima chief Shaul Mofaz embarked on a scathing critique of the merger on Friday, saying that Liberman transforms Likud into a narrow and racist party, representing the political fringe of Israeli society.
“The nationalist devil has come out of the closet,” Mofaz said in an interview on Israel Radio. He added that the union represented “the end of Netanyahu’s masquerade.”
Mofaz called on Israel’s political center to unite and give Israel back to mainstream Israelis “before it’s too late.” He said that the issue of who would lead a centrist coalition was “less important at this juncture.”
Netanyahu and Liberman on Thursday night made official the news of a merger between their respective Knesset factions, saying the new right-wing super-faction would improve governability in Israel and allow them to tackle burgeoning internal and external challenges facing the country.
“A joining of forces will give us the strength to defend Israel from military threats, and the strength to spearhead social and economic changes in the country,” Netanyahu said, standing alongside Liberman in an address to the media at Jerusalem’s Dan Panorama Hotel. “We face challenges, and this is the time to join forces for the sake of Israel’s future. Which is why Likud and Yisrael Beytenu will run together, on a single ballot” in the general elections on January 22.
“We will ask the public for the mandate to lead the State of Israel with strength in the coming years. This will greatly strengthen the government, the prime minister, and the country,” Netanyahu added. “A clear mandate will allow me to focus on what’s really important.”
Both Netanyahu and Liberman denied a Channel 2 report that said the two had secretly agreed to a power-sharing agreement, whereby Netanyahu would serve as prime minister for the first three years of the administration with Liberman taking over the top job in year four.
Elie Leshem contributed to this report.