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Why Netanyahu Did It!

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Feared Likud Would Not Win Most Knesset Seats In January Election

Netanyahu's Proposed Partnership With Avigdor Lieberman Arousing Some Opposition Inside Likud But Will Likely Be Passed By Party Convention

Labor's Shelly Yachimovich Preparing To Cash In On Netanyahu-Lieberman Ticket

Benyamin Netanyahu

 Why has Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu shocked Israel by running on the same ticket with Avigdor Lieberman, probably the most controversial Right-wing politician in the country? And how will this surprising partnership affect the general election slated for January 22. Netanyahu and Lieberman are selling their deal as a means to improve 'governance and political stability' at a time the state is facing the Iranian nuclear threat and economic challenges. However analyst David Essing is of the view that Netanyahu studied recent opinion polls and was alarmed by what he saw.

 Public opinion polls triggered the Netanyahu-Lieberman bombshell in Israel. It's as simple as that. No one party has even won a majority in an Israeli election, so a coalition of various parties is the result. The leader of the party that wins the most Knesset seats in an election is usually selected by the State President to try and form a coalition government. And here's the rub. The polls have indicated that a Centrist bloc, possibly led by former Kadima leader Olmert Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni or Labor's Shelly Yachimovich, could give Netanyahu a run for his money. Futhermore, Yachimovich has been rising in popularity running on her social platform where Netanyahu is weakest.

Avigdor Lieberman (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Reading the writing on the wall, Netanyahu sat down with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman two months ago. Lieberman's party, that draws its support from mainly Russian immigrants has often been one of Netanyahu's most acerbic critics. Two years ago, Lieberman even embarassed the PM by telling the UN General Assembly not to expect anything to come of Netanyahu's peace ideas. Most recently he said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could never be a peace partner and that he was no different than Yasser Arafat - both sought the destruction of Israel. Once addressing the Knesset, Lieberman declared: "Egypt's President Mubarak can go to hell if he refuses to visit Israel!" (Of course, the PM had to put up with these outrageous antics because he needed Lieberman's coalition support). Israeli voters are well versed in 'politics makes strange bed-fellows' but many were rubbing their eyes over this latest Netanyahu-Lieberman act.

Allowing for some literary license this might have been the deal - Netanyahu to Lieberman: "Look we both have a problem if there is one Center- Left ticket - they could win more seats than you or I separately. President Shimon Peres might then ask them to form a new government and they might do it. That would leave both of us out in the cold. So how about our two parties running together and then we'll have a better chance of winning the most seats and guarantee the first crack at forming a new government. That should be our primary objective right now".

Lieberman jumped at the offer. He would automatically get second place on the combined Knesset list and all his party candidates would split an even one-on-one rank on the rest of the ticket. Although both parties are to preserve their separate political apparatus, the move would Lieberman a head start as Netanyahu's eventual successor in the Likud. Bear in mind that for years Lieberman has been investigated for financial skulduggery and Attorney General Weinstein will reportedly announce his decision on whether to prosecute before election day. Lieberman's political promotion will give Weinstein something more to think about. Consider this: Lieberman will reportedly be able to choose which cabinet post he wishes if Netanyahu forms the next government. What if he were to pick Finance or even Justice?

Mixed reactions in Likud: The political deal has been met with a thunderous silence by many of the more moderate Likud cabinet ministers such as Silvan Shalom, Benny Begin and Dan Meridor. Cabinet Minister Moshe Yaalon supported the deal but Michael Eitan went on TV calling on Likud members to vote against it at the upcoming convention next week, however most commentators think it will be passed easily.

Labor's Shelli Yachimovich could gain if some low income supporters decide to bolt the Likud. In fiesty TV interviews the Labor party leader lambasted the Prime Minister: "Bibi is running scared! He realizes that Labor can win this election and he is pulling every trick out of the book".

David Essing

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