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Israeli Election - 'Biberman' Off and Running

Netanyahu-Lieberman Merger Claim Victory In Advance Of January 22 Election

Labor's Shelli Yachimovich Focuses On Trying To Attract Low Income Sefardi Voters Who Traditionally Support Likud

Campaign Longshot: Recruit State President Shimon Peres To Lead A New Center-Left Bloc

Binyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

 Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's gamble has paid off, so far. His proposal to merge the Likud with Avigdor Lieberman's was approved by a sea of yellow party cards at the Likud Convention in Tel Aviv. In the general election on January 22, they will run on a united party list called Likud - Betaynu, 'Likud is our home'. Although Netanyahu is off to a fast start leaving the Left still in the starting blocks, analyst David Essing is of the view that the dust has yet to settle in the election race.

 Bibi Netanyahu has surmounted the first two tests of his ' Big Bang!' merger with Avigdor Lieberman. Opinion polls indicated the move would garner up to 45 seats in the election as compared with 27 for Likud and 15 for Lieberman in the 2008 ballot. Therefore the merger has not spurred angry Likudniks to bolt their party. So Netanyahu was able to tell his cheering convention that the merger would guarantee winning the most seats in the upcoming election and being selected to form the next government.

It was a brilliant tactic that has already won the upcoming election. But what will their combined platform look like? Likud party members were not given the foggiest notion other than Netanyahu's pledge of ' strong security and a strong economy'. They were simply asked to approve his proposal for the merger and leave the rest to him. They did so enthusiastically. In admitting his defeat in trying to block the merger, a forlorn Michael Eitan concluded that other Likud cabinet ministers also opposed the move but were afraid to challenge the PM at the convention. They might pay with their future cabinet posts. For his part, Netanyahu tried to assuage the 'speculation' that Lieberman now had his foot inside the Likud door and would prepare to succeed th PM after he eventually leaves politics. Netanyahu declared:" Let me assure you I intend to lead the Likud and the country for many years to come!"

Avigdor Lieberman (Photo: Amit Shabi)

There is no question that Netanyahu and Lieberman had got the jump on all the other parties. Still reeling from the shock, Left wingers derided the new conglomerate as the 'Biberman' party - playing on the names Bibi and Lieberman. On the face of it what's good for the goose should be good for the gander. However there is what could be an insurmountable hurdle.

The Centre and Left are at odds about forming their own merger for the election. Former Kadima prime minister Ehud Olmert is still procrastinating about a return to politics after already being convicted of breach of faith and with new allegations of taking bribes. Tzipi Livni another Kadima stalwart is waiting to see what Olmert will do before throwing her hat in the ring. Then there's Labor's Shelly Yachimovich who is feeling her oats after all the polls show her to be Netanyahu's closest rival, taking as many as 25 seats. Yachimovich will not take a back seat to any other leader. For his part Yair Lapid will not unite behind Yachimovich because: "She's a socialist!' As if it's a dirty word. Yachimovich retorts she has nothing against capitalism but she insists upon a welfare state, like the Scandinavian where workers get a fair shake and do not live under or just over the poverty line. Her critics inside Labor charge that their new leader has put the Palestinian peace process on the back-burner and this a political blunder.

However for the first time ever Labor is now making a major drive on the social and economic aspects of life in Israel. Yachimovich is trying to parlay the social protest of the last two years into political capital - that is to attract low income Sefaradi Israelis over to Labor after decades of voting Likud. Nothing will turn them off more than preaching about peace talks with the Palestinians. More than anything, the Palestinians blew Labor out of the water by refusing to halt the terrorism after Israeli voters backed former Labor prime ministers Yitzak Rabin and Ehud Barak in their drive for a two state solution. In any case, Yachimovich vows to give Biberman a run for their money.

President Shimon Peres (Photo: Amit Shabi)

And this campaign lonshot: Due to the difficulty in agreeing on a leader for a Center- Left bloc, the name of State President Shimon Peres has cropped up. However at age eighty-nine it is hard to believe he would consider such a career change at this late date, despite his great popularity.

David Essing

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