Yes, Prime Minister Netanyahu, once again, was able to surprise us all with a new political move – the sudden announcement yesterday that the Likud Party and the Yisrael Beiteinu Party will be running together in this election cycle. Problem is, we don’t know yet what Netanyahu and FM Avigdor Lieberman are trying to achieve by this move. Four theories come to mind:
A. The straightforward theory: These two parties will gain more mandates by running together. Yesterday, internal polls done by the parties were leaked to the press, according to which the new party will get around 50 mandates in the Knesset, more than Likud (27) and YB (15) have now. There’s one problem with this theory: the first day-after poll gives the merged party just 33 mandates, instead of the 42 they have now - a meager achievement.
The poll is problematic. It was done when voters were still confused, and there are other numbers in it that seem like outliers – only nine mandates for Shas is one example. Moreover, it is hard to imagine the almost 10 mandates that suddenly disappeared. Who are all the people who were voting Likud and YB but can’t tolerate the thought of the two parties together?
On the other hand, one can’t imagine many new voters who would give the merged party more power than it has now. Religious parties of Likud might not be happy about the merging with the ultra-secular YB. Moderate voters might be frightened by the prospect of such a merged party gaining so much power. It is easier to think about reasons for which the new party will lose votes, than about reasons for which it will gain any. Having said that, it is clear that the merge was tested carefully by pollsters working with Netanyahu and Lieberman, and is also clear that these two men are shrewder that most others. So maybe they understand something that we can’t yet see. We’ll have to wait for more time to pass and more polls to come out.
B. The "Beware of Peres" theory: Netanyahu might have done this to escape any possibility of someone else being given the task of forming the next coalition. As this theory goes, Netanyahu was afraid that a decision to run by Ehud Olmert or Tzipi Livni – an announcement is likely early next week – will make election results inconclusive enough for the president, Shimon Peres, to give Netanyahu’s rival a chance to form a coalition. By making YB part of his team, Netanyahu gains twice: 1. Even if the merged party does not get as many votes as the two leaders expect, one can’t reasonably imagine another party getting close enough for it to get the chance to form a coalition. 2. By pulling Lieberman so close, Netanyahu insured himself against a decision by the YB leader to join an Olmert coalition – Lieberman and Olmert get along well – followed, possibly, by a Shas decision to do likewise – Lieberman is good friend of Shas’ new-old leader, Aryeh Deri. With Lieberman by his side, YB can’t abandon him, and Shas can’t abandon him, as it would never do such a thing without the cover of having another right-wing party joining the same coalition.
C. Conspiracy theories: Netanyahu needs Lieberman to attack Iran before/after the election. Netanyahu and Lieberman plan to start a war against someone else. Netanyahu wants Lieberman as his successor. Netanyahu wants to get rid of IB as a potential rival. It is all an attempt to ready the next government for a second term Obama presidency.
D. The good theories: The two truly want to change the electoral system (if they do, Yair Lapid is likely to join forces with them). They want to draft Haredis to the military and need the votes. They think it really is time for Israel to rid itself of small à la carte parties (this is what they said in the press conference yesterday). They want stability. They want to limit the power of ideological parties of the right/religious to blackmail the ruling party.
So, which is it? I don’t know. And as for those pretending to know – I don’t trust them. Why? Because they didn’t see this coming yesterday, and there’s no reason to think they know today why it happened. Time will tell.
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