Israeli's Likud party and Yisrael Beiteinu have agreed to field a joint list in upcoming parliamentary elections. The opposition has criticized the alliance as a shift to the right that would jeopardize peace.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Thursday that his conservative Likud party planned to join forces with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, days after parliament had voted to set early elections for January.
"Unification will give us the power to defend Israel," said Netanyahu, according to the online version of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "The power to defend against foreign security threats and the power to enact social and economic change within the country."
"And that is why we will be running to the next Knesset in one list, one ballot," the prime minister added. "We will ask the public to mandate us to powerfully lead Israel in the coming years."
Likud currently holds 27 seats in Israel's 120-member Knesset, while Yisrael Beiteinu has 15 seats. Although Netanyahu has claimed that early elections are necessary in order to end a deadlock over the passage of austerity measures, the prime minister and Lieberman have said that they hope to secure a more stable governing coalition.
"De facto, we have already established a change in the political system, which ensures stability," Lieberman said.
The decision to unify the two parties comes as the Netanyahu government has expressed growing concern about Iran's nuclear program. Israel has said it would not rule out a unilateral military strike to destroy the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities.
The Likud party's central committee still has to approve the joint list with Yisrael Beiteinu. Likud is scheduled to meet on Tuesday.
Opposition says joint list threat to peace
Lieberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement, is controversial figure both in Israel and abroad. In August, he called for early elections in the West Bank in order to oust Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from power. Lieberman had accused Abbas of trying to undermine the Israel-Palestinian peace process.
The Israeli opposition criticized the proposed Likud Beiteinu list on Thursday, claiming that it represented a shift to the right which would torpedo the prospect of a renewed Mideast peace process.
"The prime minister is essentially signaling that he has chosen the extremist, pro-settlement right ... not to make progress in the diplomatic process," Zehava Galon, head of the liberal Meretz party, told Israel's Army Radio.
Veteran Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi told the Reuters news agency that the right-wing alliance would harm the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.
"Such a dramatic shift to the right will be very costly for both sides," Ashrawi said. "And it will again destroy chances of peace and will further separate issues of justice and Palestinian rights from Israeli politics."
slk/ipj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)