So it appears that while I was away from my computer, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu (YB) decided to run on a single list for the upcoming elections in Israel. Thus I can only give a quick reaction now.
This isn’t really a surprise, and provides considerable benefits for the two parties, but at the same time has several implications for Israeli parties and politics.
Israeli political parties merge and split all the time. Likud itself is an amalgam of several parties. Yisrael Beiteinu ran as part of the ticket of National Union in 2003, and there have been rumors in the past about a merger with Likud.
On the surface a unified faction makes lots of sense. It helps protect both Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman from internal party rivals. It allows for a concentration of resources and voters, particularly as the left and the center are emerging as serious challenges in the campaign.
On the other hand, a super-right party would draw voters from some of the smaller right secular parties. These aren’t likely to be happy about this, and may fight to keep their share of the vote. It’s also not clear all Likud members are happy about this. There was already substantial discontent among some with Netanyahu; a joint ticket will be seen as a way of silencing them, and they may intensify their anti-Bibi activities, and work to undermine the union.
Nor will YB members be all that happy. The Russian and secular constituencies that voted for it will see their issues diluted within a larger party. Netanyahu was careful to give YB more or less equality with Likud on the ticket (which I take as a sign of his perception of his weak position), but Likud is still bigger and stronger and will dominate the agenda more than YB will.
The haredi parties will not be happy, whatever they say in public. YB, and Lieberman particularly, is considered to be staunchly secular. For example, it harped on the haredi draft as major policy issue for a long time, and seemed less inclined to compromise than Bibi was. This opens the door a little more for the religious parties, especially Shas, to consider a government with the left and center-left, should the latter obtain enough seats in the Knesset to form a plausible core to the coalition.
I understand Lieberman may have been offered his choice of ministry should the ticket form the coalition. This would be disastrous for Israel. As a Foreign Minister, Lieberman has been one of the least productive and biggest liabilities Israel has even had in that position (with a possible except of David Levy). If Lieberman chooses the Defense Ministry, he’ll be in an even more powerful position to shape Israeli security and foreign policy (assuming they are not the same thing, which isn’t a safe assumption) along his confused, incoherent, and belligerent preferences. In such an event, expect a downward spiral in relations with the US, the Palestinians, Turkey, and Egypt.
Finally, don’t expect the ticket to last. Israeli politicians are known for their large egos, and Lieberman and Netanyahu are no different: neither will want to play second fiddle to the other for long, particularly as Lieberman will now see himself as being in a stronger position. There are also real policy disagreements between the two parties, including differences over the role of religion in politics and society. They share some, but not all, of the same type of voters. And other parties, among the left, the right, and the religious will prefer Likud over YB; they’ll see YB as an obstacle to overcome more than anything else. This will push Likud, including Bibi, to leave the ticket as soon as is feasible or the pressure gets too great.