+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

A sign of weakness: On the Netanyahu-Lieberman deal

Netanyahu is building his coalition before the elections rather than after them – and at a greater price. Avigdor Lieberman has made a huge step on his way to becoming the Likud’s next leader.

A few takeaways from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to run in the next elections under a large, ultra-nationalist bloc consisting of his own Likud party and Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu.

1. The joint bloc is likely to get fewer seats than the two parties could have gotten together if each of them ran on its own, because some voters from each party might be turned off by the presence of the other party’s candidates on the tickets. Likud could lose Mizrahi supporters to Shas and religious voters of the National Religious Party, while Lieberman might see some potential voters moving to Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, which will now be the only anti-Orthodox voice left. Common wisdom is that Lieberman has an equal share of Russian and Israeli-born Jewish supporters, with the latter not being long time right-wing voters, and therefore more likely to move away from him.

The only way the joint ticket might actually gain support will be if voters tend to prefer big parties to smaller ones, but this is less likely in the current elections, which seems to be more ideological than previous ones we had.

2. Netanyahu and Lieberman understand this risk, and they had different reasons to unite their parties. The prime minister is trying to form his coalition before the elections, and the joint ticket makes it clear that Lieberman will stay on his side, regardless of the result of the vote. This pact is a sign of weakness – Netanyahu wouldn’t have gone for it if he thought he would have more power after the elections. The price will be paid by Likud’s moderates and backbenchers.

The deal is meant to secure the prime minister role for Netanyahu even in a case of a relative failure in the polls. If the new list – named Likud Beitenu – gets around 40 seats (it has 42 now), Netanyahu is certain to be the only candidate who can form the next government, and other parties will have much less bargaining power after the elections.

As for Lieberman, running with the Likud puts him in an excellent position to succeed Netanyahu somewhere down the road. This has always been his goal. Furthermore, Lieberman’s numbers in the polls weren’t that great lately, and he would have been lucky to maintain his current strength. By running under Netanyahu he saved himself the troubles of being tested in the polls.

3. An instant poll conducted by Panels research company on Thursday had some interesting results. It showed the Lieberman-Netanyahu list with only 34 seats, and for the first time, the right-Orthodox block had only 60 seats – exactly half of the Knesset’s 120, and short of a secured majority. Panels conducts its polls on the internet with a relatively small sample, so some caution is needed here. But even if this were to be the outcome of the elections, the center and the left are so fragmented that it is hard to see anyone but Netanyahu forming the next government. The bottom line is that not much has changed.

4. I don’t share the feeling, expressed by Larry Derfner here or by Haaretz’s editor Aluf Benn, that the new bloc would result in a more aggressive coalition, one that is more likely to attack Iran, for example. Netanyahu will face the same reluctant army and skeptic ministers if he tries to push for an attack again, and this time he might not have Defense Minister Ehud Barak on his side. The Likud Beiteinu list, however, could be a much more dangerous party on domestic issues, where Lieberman has a clear agenda.

5. The unification of Likud with the ultra-nationalist, and often racist Israel Beitenu, should serve as a lesson to all those who somehow bought – and at times, pushed – the narrative of “the moderate Netanyahu.” Think of all the statements from Netanyahu regarding his desire to renew direct negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. At the same time, Netanyahu was actually negotiating with Lieberman, who wants to replace Abbas with a new, even more comfortable, puppet president.

There is no moderate flank to this government, just as there is no moderate side to Netanyahu. By now, he is the longest serving prime minister Israel has had, after David Ben-Gurion. On the eve of his third election victory, it’s time to see him for what he is: an ultra-nationalist who will do everything in his power to colonize and hold on to every inch between the river and the sea.

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article

    * Required


    1. The Trespasser

      “Avigdor Lieberman made a huge step on his way to becoming the Likud’s next leader.”

      Why would Lieberman want to became Likud’s leader? He has own party with own electorate and really needs remaining of Likud – there is nothing worthy in it.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Because his own party doesn’t have the reach to ever lead a government. It is somewhere between the center-right (likud) and the extreme-right (national union). There are not more than 15-20 mandates there. Lieberman tried to build a successor to the Likud but the comeback of the Likud under Netanyahu proved that this strategy would not work. So, the only way he now sees of being a prime minister is by taking over the Likud from the inside.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser


          Same was said about Likud – it has now reach. Times are changing however.

          In a number of issues IOH is lefter than even Avoda: Palestinian state, social problems, etc.

          Lieberman could never take Likud – or any other party – from inside.

          And why would he do that? IOH already has few seats from non-Russian voters.
          All they need is 5-7 more seats.

          Lieberman could stay out and get at least as much seats, probably quite more due to indisputable success in tourism and international relations

          Chances are even they’d be the largest party – alongside Shas ROFL

          Joining forces of two most powerful parties at this stage means less ministers and less hassle to bypass laws.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            YB had no chance of achieving a break-out as long as the Likud under Bibi strategically occupied the center-right. Lieberman’s only hope was that the Likud would disappear, which could have happened after Sharon left.

            I admit that YB was doing a decent job of attracting non-Russian voters and politicians, but I don’t think it could never break out of its niche with Lieberman at its head. This is its greatest weakness – it is primarily a political vehicle for Lieberman and that is explicit in the way that its MKs are chosen.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            We shall see…

            Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      The three most important consequences of the new party from my perspective.

      1. Increased importance of the center-left parties getting off their asses and articulating coherent alternatives.

      2. Overtly adopted policy of annexation of Area C and unilateral withdrawal from the rest of the West Bank, announcing “the occupation is over”.

      3. Daylight between the US and Israel, as the US will not endorse the shift from ambiguity to clarity on the annexation strategy.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        1) The center-left can’t offer any real unified alternatives. Everything you hope they might propose is a vote loser. They are better off separately running on their own agendas and maybe getting enough strength from this stupid move by Bibi to have a chance of tempting Deri into a coalition.

        2) The party isn’t going to overtly adopt the annexation of area C or a unilateral withdrawal. You are misreading position of YB. The basis of the policies of both Bibi and YB is maintaining the status quo.

        3) see (2)

        Reply to Comment
        • Richard Witty

          The status quo is acting as if Area C is annexed (as Jewish residents can vote in Israeli elections).

          If the actual becomes official, or even really known, the US will be forced to establish a foreign policy that distinguishes between what is annexed/occupied and what is consented.

          It’s just a matter of time.

          Reply to Comment
          • aristeides


            The US knows exactly what’s going on in the territories and never has and never will do a damn thing about it. The Lobby exists for this very purpose, to keep the US from being “forced” to do anything about Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • Richard Witty

            The question becomes when it becomes undeniable, when daylight is allowed in.

            This new linkage is a deviation from the agreed line between the US and Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            Yes and no. For example, when a polster asked Americans point blank if they support expansion of settlements, majority was against. But few truly care, so there is some code of silence on the issue.

            For example, there is this guy Yoffie, Exalted Grand Poobah of the Reform Jewry. He described his ecumenical dialogue with various grandees of Presbiterian Church. They asked him why Israel insists on expanding settlements. He answered that the depth of Palestinian commitment to the peace process is questionable. In the article in Haaretz he was very clear that the best he could do was to be evasive.

            The bottom line is that there is a possibility that a straw will break the camel back, the camel being infinite patience of American government with settlement expansion and expulsions of Palestinians.

            That said, Likud as as much of settlers’ party as Israel Beitenu, and as Likudnik, it is hard to tell that between Dany Danon and Feiglin, Lieberman will be an extremist outlier.

            In some sense, the actual differences between IB and Likud are so minute that the merger is very logical. However, there were certain apparent differences, and in politics, appearances matter.

            1. Likud’s position on “secular issues” was basically “we do not give a damn, but we need to have a coalition with religious parties. Which is a lie, they could have a coalition with Kadima under (G.ds! I tried to look up the name of Mofaz and this is what I found “Kadima is a Jewish mental health agency whose mission is to provide psychological services, residential options, …”, every major Israeli party should have a well staffed mental health department). Lieberman is the same, when they could do something with Mofaz, they did not. So probably Lieberman though that it would be more credible to drop “secular” pretenses.

            2. On law and order issues, Likud could have a gangster or two on their lists, but the top leadership was relatively clean.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Aristeides is right. The US knows exactly what is going on and has no intention of making any changes in policy. The same is true of the European countries, Russia, China, etc.. Aristeides is wrong on the reason for this. It isn’t because of any lobby. It is simply because in the grand scheme of things the US doesn’t care and neither do any of the other countries/entities listed.

            Neither of Bibi and Lieberman has any intention of changing the official status quo. That is the full extent of the concessions the US has managed to extract. It is similar to the compromise on nuclear weapons that the US ignores as long as Israel maintains an ambiguous stance.

            Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            The US doesn’t care AND the Lobby works actively to keep it that way.

            Denying the existence of the Lobby is just as absurd as supposing the US – specifically Obama, whom too many people still foolishly invest groundless hope – gives a damn.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Of course there is a lobby. It is capable of acting on the margins. It is entirely incapable of setting the broad strokes of American foreign policy.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Kolumn9

      Honestly I have a very hard time understanding this move. I read your explanation and it doesn’t make sense. The Likud and YB were going to have 42-44 seats between them in the next Knesset. They were almost certainly going to sit together in the next government. It is also likely that the terms for sitting in the government would have been roughly the same as last time.

      Was Bibi really concerned that YB might form a government with Labor, Yesh Atid and Meretz? If he was then this step isn’t going to change anything. Even running as a single list with the Likud YB can pull up its MKs and go solo (they need just 7 MKs which they surely will have unless Lieberman is total crap at negotiation). So, I don’t buy the reasoning that somehow running on a single list binds YB to Bibi.

      There is something missing here. The deal stinks. Not because there is anything particularly unusual, but because the actual terms of the deal are likely being kept secret from everyone.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser


        It is possible that they will try to run for narrowest coalition possible.
        They need 61 seats, they have about 50 by now: Russians from Avoda + Druze + some more people from Kadima and such…

        Yeah, theoretically they could get some 55 seats, which means that they could get some jokers or a dead horse to fill up the rest.

        Left-center has nothing to come up with.

        Avoda + Kadima?

        Reply to Comment
    4. XYZ

      I think your fear of Lieberman becoming Prime Minister are misplaced. I, as a ‘pro-settler Right-winger’ do not want him as Prime Minister, although I am pleased with this work as Foreign Minister. Many Right-wingers agree with my assessment. He is still, bottom line, identified with the Russian olim and this restricts his appeal to the rest of the population.
      I also see I need to remind everyone that Lieberman was acceptable to the Leftist Kadima party as a coalition partner.

      Reply to Comment
      • Toby

        “Leftist Kadima party”? So there is a new leftist party called Kadima? Wasn’t that big centre-right party, you know the one slightly less radical than Likud, already called Kadima? I suppose they’ll sue for pirating their name?

        Reply to Comment
        • XYZ

          Olmert and KADIMAH support division of Jerusalem, the transfer of the Jewish holy places like the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, the Western Wall, the Mount of Olives and the rest to Arab control in the guise of “international supervision” and the expulsion of anothe 100,000 Jews from settlements outside the security wall. They also in princple accept the Palestinian “Right of Return of Refugees”. I can’t think of anything more Leftist than that.

          Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            Failure of imaginination there, X

            Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            I always thought that XYZ is a lovely lady from South America, Ximena Yolanda Zambrano, so she can be excused for never reading anything specific about Meretz.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Noam, I didn’t say the merger made it more likely that we would bomb Iran; Bibi can’t get any more hawkish on that subject than he already is. On everything else, he’ll get more hawkish. (If the merger goes through.)

      Reply to Comment
      • I know – that one referred to Benn. Anyway, I crossed out this sentence.

        Reply to Comment
        • Thanks, boss.

          Reply to Comment
    6. aristeides

      So I see the Likudniks ratified the merger. Game on.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Click here to load previous comments

The stories that matter.
The missing context.
All in one weekly email.

Subscribe to +972's newsletter