American consultant Arthur Finkelstein, one of the architects of the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu merger last Thursday, believes the move will add three or more mandates to the sum of both parties and that together they are much stronger than each would be separately.
In an interview with Channel 2 on Saturday night, Finkelstein said, "I've thought this was good for years. I've been talking about this for a few years. Because, separately they have similar constituencies, and each one adds a little to the other one. And together they are, in my view, much stronger. The can form a much stronger [bloc] — not just political coalition, because it's easier to win an election with a unified Right bloc, but also it makes Israel more secure, more stable, and gives it one voice. So, I think it's good politics and it's good government, and I think it's good for them and I think it's good for the country and I think it's good for the Jewish people."
Finkelstein predicted that the merged list would win 45 mandates in the elections.
"At the end of the day, the people who have supported Likud in the past and the people who have supported Yisrael Beytenu in the past will stay united,” he said. “I also expect that there would be three to five more seats that would come to this sort of a coalition because it's a united Right bloc. So it could conceivably take a few more Center-Right people, particularly those who were Center-Right and went with [former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and Kadima. I think this becomes more attractive because, once again, it it's the Right against the Left, and in that configuration, Israel is a 3:2 Right-bloc nation, and they should do very, very well. So, they should add to their 42. My guess is, they end up with 45, but it's plus or minus two or three."
According to Finkelstein, in all Israel's elections in the past, governmental survivability played a major role.
"All campaigns in Israel, historically, have been about the survival of the country,” he said. “This is an election, ultimately, for prime minister; it's not an election for mayor. And so the big issues will be the security issues. And with security, Israel is stronger, and with this coalition, they will able to be larger and more successful at speaking with one voice in the international community."
Speaking at press conference on Friday, Yisrael Beytenu leader and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, "The decision to merge was discussed throughout the past year." He said there was no plan for him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take turns serving as prime minister.
Lieberman said the final decision between the parties to move ahead with the merger was made two months ago.
"We will certainly work to form a united platform and we will certainly have to compromise, not only in the areas of religion and state, but also in the area of military and civilian service,” he said. “We believe there is no way to separate state and religion in Israel. We are the only country in the world in which there is an absolute identity between its religion and nationality. What we do have to separate here is between religion and political meddling. We want pure religion here, without mediators."
Asked whether the merger was the result of a fear of loss of votes, Lieberman said, "We are not afraid of anything. This list is the result of premeditated thought. The process began a year ago and the final decision was made two months ago. We are establishing this broad, traditional and historical national camp that will lead the country for many years to come. We must move away from being a country with countless political parties. We may never have only two parties here like in the U.S., but we must ensure governability and stability."
"This list reflects a new reality and I hope that it is clear to everyone that there is no alternative to this list,” he said. “At the moment, this is a party that includes two different factions who have worked together for the past four years. Both parties constituted the government's anchor of stability throughout those years and there has been a natural dynamic mode of operation between us. Everyone understands that it is much easier and better to run a government through large parties rather than through splinter parties that lack an ideology and usually last no more than one term in office."
Lieberman said there was no truth to the rumor that he had agreed to the merger because he was granted his request to hold the office of prime minister in rotation with Netanyahu. "I have no interest in the issue of inheritance,” he said. “We will do our best to succeed in the best way possible in the coming elections and after them. It is very important to implement what one says, and not just to promise. In our party, our word is golden."
The Likud's central committee is set to approve the merger on Monday despite opposition by some of its members. Most members of the party support the move, but MK Michael Eitan and Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor had reservations about it, with Meridor said to be mulling leaving the Likud in the merger’s wake.
Eitan intends to obtain the signatures of 400 members of the Likud's central committee to force a secret ballot on the vote over the merger, but many believe he will not be able to solicit that amount of signatures.
"The merger is a mistake because it will distance voters from us. Some of Lieberman's voters are not fond of Netanyahu and some Likud voters are not fond of Lieberman. Running on separate tickets could have brought about a larger bloc after the elections," Eitan said. He added that Likud was a "traditional party" and many Likud voters might be taken aback by the merger.
Netanyahu will address Likud's central committee and present the agreement to it on Monday. He will tell the audience that no one on the original Likud list would be in danger of losing his or her place as a result of the merger, and anyone who held a place on the list that would have given him or her a sure seat in the Knesset prior to the merger would retain their place after the merger. Many Likud MKs are concerned that Yisrael Beytenu MKs will vie for their places in a unified list.
A short time after Likud holds its primaries, the two parties intend to hold a large celebratory event launching the unified bloc. About 3,000 members of the central committees of both parties will attend the event, together with Netanyahu and Lieberman.
Meridor said he would consider his next move and was said to be mulling leaving the party. Party members said he was not expected to do well in the coming primaries and that whether he left would depend on how well he did.
In contrast to Eitan and Meridor, Minister Without Portfolio Ze'ev Binyamin (Benny) Begin has expressed his support for the merger.