JERUSALEM (JTA) – The Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu parties will merge their candidate slates for the upcoming Israeli elections, bolstering Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances at forming Israel’s next government.
The surprise announcement by Netanyahu, the prime minister and chairman of Likud, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beiteinu came at a news conference Thursday evening in Jerusalem. The move makes the joint entity more likely to win the most votes in January’s elections, giving Netanyahu first shot at assembling the Knesset majority necessary to again become prime minister. Likud currently controls 27 Knesset seats and Yisrael Beiteinu has 15.
In Israel’s last elections, Kadima edged Likud by one seat. But Netanyahu managed to beat out then-Kadima leader Tzipi Livni when it came to coalition building, putting together an alliance of right-leaning parties, including Yisrael Beiteinu, to create his Knesset majority.
The new joint list "strengthens the government, strengthens the prime minister and, because of this, strengthens the country," Netanyahu said at Thursday’s news conference.
The merger comes amid talk in recent days of creating a unified coalition of centrist and left-wing parties as a counter to Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc.
"I call on voters who feel they’ve lost their political home to join the Labor Party and stop the Netanyahu-Liberman government," Shelly Yachimovich, Labor’s chairwoman and opposition leader, said following the announcement, calling on centrist parties to align with Labor. Yachimovich added that she would not join a government led by Netanyahu and Liberman.
Likud’s Central Committee is scheduled to vote Oct. 30 on the merger.