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A TV poll aired on Monday saw the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu taking, respectively, 27 and 12 of parliament’s 120 seats, and an eventual new Netanyahu-led coalition commanding 65 seats.
The Likud denied an Israeli media report that Netanyahu and Lieberman planned to rotate the premiership between them in the next government, as the Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir and the dovish Shimon Peres did during their coalition in the 1980s.
Opposition parties decried the alliance, with Zehava Gal-On of the liberal Meretz saying it invited international isolation.
“The prime minister is essentially signalling 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 (with the Palestinians),” she told Israel’s Army Radio.
That was echoed by veteran Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi, who accused Netanyahu of scrapping any prospect for peace in return for a firmer hold on Israel’s national helm.
“Such a dramatic shift to the right will be very costly for both sides, and it will again destroy chances of peace and will further separate issues of justice and Palestinian rights from Israeli politics,” Ashrawi told Reuters.
Netanyahu says he is committed to achieving an accord with the Palestinians, though he disputes their claim on the West Bank and East Jerusalem and has made clear that curbing Iran, as well as Abbas’s armed rival Islamists, is Israel’s core worry.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak last year quit his centre-left Labour party, dumping it from the coalition, to form a more conservative party that dovetailed with Netanyahu’s policies.
Netanyahu further widened the coalition this year by joining forces with the centrist Kadima party, though that partnership soon broke up over the government’s failure to push through a reform of military conscription laws granting exemptions en masse to ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students.
Netanyahu might try to address the draft issue again with the help of the secularist Lieberman, given what appears to have been their decision not to inform Shas, the powerful religious party in the coalition, about their merger in advance.
“I was absolutely surprised by this,” the Shas leader Interior Minister Eli Yishai said, anticipating the move could prompt left-leaning and Orthodox parties to form their own blocs.