On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the formation of an alliance between his right-leaning Likud party and Israel Beiteinu, an ultra-nationalist bloc headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The announcement comes just months ahead of general elections in January. The establishment of the new merged party, Likud Beiteinu, is likely to solidify right-wing leadership in parliament to the detriment of centrist and liberal parties.
“In Israel, the prime minister needs a big, cohesive force behind him,” explained Netanyahu at a press conference.
“Real reform of governance begins, effectively, today,” Lieberman chimed in.
The move is of major geopolitical significance, as it may herald a shift to the right on several foreign policy issues, including a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities and the prospect of talks with Palestinian leaders regarding statehood and Israeli settlements in the territories.
Lieberman himself lives on a settlement in the occupied West Bank, though he has said in the past he would vacate the premises in the interest of a peace agreement.
Many Likud politicians praised the alliance decision, but some dissented.
“We're repulsed by this partnership with Lieberman. I don't want to run with a person like Lieberman, with the kind of values he stands for,” said one anonymous Likud official to the liberal Haaretz newspaper.
Leftist MPs were especially angered by the announcement.
“The prime minister is essentially signaling that he has chosen the extremist, pro-settlement right, that he has chosen to walk in place, not to make progress in the diplomatic process,” said Zehava Gal-On of the Meretz party, according to Reuters.
Labor leader Shelley Yacimovich told Haaretz that the alliance was made to enhance the prime minister’s chances in the election. “Netanyahu knew that the election's results weren't settled, and so he acted accordingly," she said.
"Many Likud voters … lost a political home today,” she added. “Tonight they found themselves in a scenario they could have imagined in their worst nightmares -- in a party headed by Lieberman."
In order to win some of those moderate Likud voters, Yacimovich called for centrist parties to link up with the Labor party to create an alternative coalition.