October 31, 2012 - 12:00am

JERUSALEM, Oct. 31 (Xinhua) -- Israel's governing Likud party approved teaming up with Yisrael Beiteinu in a move that united the country's right-of-center forces and left contenders on the left treading water ahead of the elections slated for early next year.

Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home), headed respectively by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, are the two largest parties in the Likud-led coalition government and the second and third largest parties in the current Knesset (parliament). Together, they hold 42 seats.

While the two parties will remain internally separate, they will present a unified list of candidates for the early Knesset elections, scheduled for Jan. 22.

Meanwhile, experts are predicting that the largest party in the unicameral legislature, center-left Kadima, led by Shaul Mofaz, will lose up to two-thirds of its 29 mandates, and that most of its supporters are unlikely to vote for them again.

Many are expected to turn to the Labor party under Shelly Yehimovich or the Yesh Atid (Future) party established by former TV newsman Yair Lapid. Speculation is also in the air that former Kadima leaders Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert might return to politics and form a center-left bloc.

However, "in these coming elections, the chances that the left and center will unite aren't great," Professor Eyal Chowers, at Tel Aviv University, told Xinhua Tuesday.

"Livni, Olmert and Mofaz don't accept the leadership of Yehimovich, because they see her as inexperienced in terms of her understanding of international affairs and security affairs," he added.

Professor Peter Medding, of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said while center and left-of-center factions are bruiting around the idea of forming a united list, they do not seem to be getting anywhere.

"The differences between the parties and the personal ambitions of the leaders are such that they are having great difficulty in producing unity," Medding pointed out.

Livni, the former foreign minister, and Olmert, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2009, do not see Yehimovich as having enough experience in statecraft to handle the role of the prime minister.

However, Yehimovich believes that since she is heading the leading party on the center-left -- and the only party that has a realistic chance of winning a lot of Knesset seats -- she does not have to defer to either Olmert or Livni, or let either of them grab the premiership.

Chowers said both Livni and Olmert's views on Yehimovich also apply to Lapid, who they view as being a political novice and far from being worthy of the prime minister's seat.

"For both Olmert and Livni, the only reason for them to go back to politics is if they can be prime minister or hold another important ministerial post, and Lapid can't give them that, so I don't see them participating in his party and letting him be number one," Chowers said.

Medding noted that the joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu venture is unlikely to be a starting point in consolidating Israel's fragmented political landscape.

"There has been lots of unions and break-up in Israeli politics for a long time, and generally it's not even clear that Netanyahu and Lieberman is a consolidation," Medding said.

"They have 42 seats between them at the moment, but let's wait and see how many they get in the elections. It's quite possible, and might well be likely, that they won't get 42 seats; they might get fewer than they got individually," he added.

Israeli Channel 10 TV poll showed that the new merged list would lose seven seats, dropping to 35 mandates. However, a Channel 2 TV survey indicated that the bloc would retain hold on to its current slots.

Medding cautioned again the idea of a coalition as a simple way for parties to increase their influence.

"The experience in recent years has been that these kinds of tickets or consolidations are signs to cover-up weakness rather than sign of strength, and gathering strength to go forward," he averred.

The problem in past consolidation attempts -- both on the right and the left -- has been that when joined together, the dual parties got fewer mandates than as separate entities.

This syndrome affected the individual politicians' willingness to remain in the party; the party got fewer votes and the mandates then had to be shared among more people, which reduced their chances of getting elected or receiving a ministerial post.

Before elections are held in Israel, each party presents a list of its candidates, starting with the chairman at the number one spot, and the rest in descending order, so a lower placement in the list means lower chance of getting in the plenum door.

So, while joint lists might be favored by the party leaders, party members view them as a far less attractive option.


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