Yossi Verter
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 26, 2012 - 12:00am

The Israeli political world was shocked Thursday. While everyone was carefully watching the center-left bloc waiting to see what steps Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni would take, suddenly they were overtaken from the right side of the political map by the October surprise of the 2013 election.

The option of a merger between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu was in the air for the past few months, but it was considered somewhere between unfounded speculation and an unlikely possibility. But Thursday it turned into a shocking electoral reality.

The (right-wing ) big bang against the entire left - that is what they have been cooking up for us these past few weeks in complete secrecy, Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, the pair with the longest history together in Israeli politics of the past two decades. They were the first to take the field. They will set the agenda. They, almost certainly, have guaranteed their status also in the next Knesset as prime minister and foreign minister - or maybe as finance minister if Lieberman insists, and without any rotation between them.

Netanyahu never even considered the idea of giving up on a year as prime minister. Lieberman never even thought to ask. "There is a clear and precise agreement between us: Lieberman supports, completely, my candidacy for prime minister for the entire term," Netanyahu stated clearly Thursday to the people he spoke to.

He also explicitly denied reports that Lieberman is expected to be appointed vice prime minister during the next term. "There will no vice prime minister. Lieberman will receive one of the three senior [ministerial] portfolios," said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu and Lieberman have seen good times together. They have also seen bad ones, and quite a few at that. Their relationship of 20 years has been like a roller coaster: They were best friends. They have sometimes been the most bitter of enemies. The black cats that have crossed their mutual paths were the size of lions. During Netanyahu's present term, Lieberman was the minister who embarrassed him the most, at the most important forums in the world, such as the United Nations. But Thursday evening, when they stood next to each other in the Dan Panorama Hotel in Jerusalem wearing festive blue ties, satisfied with their success in keeping the matter secret - they looked as if they had made peace with their fate: To unite.

"Will two walk together, except they have agreed?" said the prophet Amos. It seems so. They were made for each other.

Netanyahu sounded so pleased Thursday he seemed almost euphoric, understandably. In private conversations he held in the past few years he has said of himself: "In this term I learned something. I am not the Netanyahu of my first term. Then I was slow, I didn't initiate, I didn't lead. I didn't surprise. I was dragged. In this term I navigate, I lead, I set the stage."

Netanyahu also said Thursday that even if the number of seats the joint list receives is smaller than the number they have in this Knesset, it does not matter. "One less seat, one more seat," said Netanyahu. "What does it matter? The main [thing] is that we have created one big list that will govern with stability. That's what the public wants. That's what the public needs. It is hard to act, hard to manage the government when you are the head of a party with 27 seats or 25 seats," said Netanyahu.

Thursday he told those who asked him what he thought would be the implications of the unification on the composition of the next government. "This step creates a very, very strong political reality. Very, very strong," said Netanyahu, who refused to give any details. Those who heard him interpreted his words and his tone as expressing the power he holds in his hands as the head of the largest faction in the Knesset - when he will come to handle the coalition negotiations. He will not be under pressure, and no one will be able to squeeze things out of him.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017