I’m writing this post at 10:30 on Monday night as a hurricane rages outside my house, and since I somehow inexplicably have power (and really Pepco? I lose power when there is a little drizzle, but you manage to keep it going during a freaking hurricane??) I am going to keep it short and sweet before it goes out. Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu moved one step closer to merging today as the Likud Central Committee voted to move forward with the union. This is going to be the first post of many analyzing whether this move makes sense, and according to the initial polls, the answer is not necessarily. The Channel 10 poll has Likud Beiteinu winning 35 seats, down from their current combined 42, and the Channel 2 poll has LB treading water at 42 seats. The point of this merger was to create a party greater than the sum of its parts, and while we have months to go before the actual vote, so far Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman do not appear to be moving toward accomplishing that goal.
Why might this be? I think a big part of the answer so far has to do with Yisrael Beiteinu’s base. When the news of the deal broke on Thursday, I wrote the following:
Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, though, are not necessarily better off. Likud is now alternating with Yisrael Beiteinu for the first 42 party slots, which obviously waters down Likud, and the rank and file have got to be furious about this. As for YB, the party’s focus on Russian voters is not going to be as laser-like as it once was, and while it will likely get some more attention for its initiatives at the outset, the independent concerns that YB had are eventually going to be subsumed by the larger Likud project and constituency.
If you look at YB voters, they appear to have some real concerns. The Panels poll conducted for Channel 99 has LB winning 35 seats, and the poll asked 2009 YB voters how they were planning on voting in this election with results that should worry Netanyahu. Only 59% of 2009 YB voters indicated that they are planning on voting for the new LB party in 2013, and an enormous 22% said they were not sure. That 22% is the key to this election, since my strong hunch is that those are the voters who cast their ballot in the past for YB because they counted on Lieberman to represent their interests as Russian olim. It is no longer assured that Likud Beiteinu will perform that same function, and that’s one of the reasons why this merger was, to my mind, a strange and risky move for Netanyahu. He needs to keep all of those Russian voters and then pick up some extra voters along the way, but by banding with Lieberman not only does he risk losing some of the Russian voters, he also risks losing some of his own considerable Mizrachi base within Likud since they are wary of Lieberman and the Russians. Netanyahu now has to do a very precarious dance in convincing both of these camps to hang around, and moves signaling one group that they are still valued are precisely the types of signals bound to turn off the other. How Netanyahu and the new LB party deal with this over the next few months will be very interesting indeed.
More to come when there isn’t an old man outside my window loading pairs of animals into an ark..
Not sure I get the original motivation for a merger. I could generally see two purposes for a list-merger, maybe 3.
1) Ensuring that the vote isn’t split, leading to less seats overall for the two parties. This makes sense for two small parties that struggle to break the threshold. But neither YB or Likud are in danger of that.
2) Ensuring they’re the biggest party after an election, leading to the President to ask them to form a government first. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the size of the party itself has little to do with this. The President will presumably ask the party leader he believes most likely to form a government. Kadima won more seats than Likud last time but could not form a coalition, while Likud could. The fundamentals of coalition building are the same now as they were last week, and presumably, Peres is aware of this.
3) Getting people excited to see a super-awesome-huge party with the air of inevitable triumph, leading to more votes. This seems like a dubious proposition in normal circumstances, and particularly unlikely even now, where the constituencies of YB and Likud have serious antipathy for the other. Maybe the plan was to discourage the left from forming their own super party? I have to assume, though, that if anything, forming a large RW party pressures the LW even more than before to do the same thing.