Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman
appeared unimpressed Thursday by pessimistic public opinion polls and commentators' estimates over what caused him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
the friends turned rivals of Israeli politics, to merge their two parties.
In general, Lieberman sees no problem in the Likud-
merger, as both parties come from the same ideological background.
"The two parties are inspired by the same person: (Revisionist Zionist leader Ze'ev) Jabotinsky," Lieberman says Friday in an interview to Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth. "This is our common denominator. We are in favor of Judaism and of separating Judaism from political activism. We are against separating State and religion, but we are in favor of separating from public activists whose work is defamation of God.
"This whole move was taken because of the need to change the government system and introduce a reform. We need practical steps. Running together is the beginning of this move."
Do you think that following the merger in the Right there will be a merger in the Left as well?
"I hope and wish that the Left goes in the same direction of unity. Our political problem is the government system, the party fragments, the lists which have a right to exist for one term only. I suggest that citizens avoid going backwards with the parties of the future. We've seen enough parties rise and fall without leaving a trace."
Lieberman is unmoved by the Likud activists who spoke up against the merger deal, sending text messages to senior ministers and informing them that they are through with the party.
"We are not a pork party and not a Tiv Taam store (non-kosher chain)," one of the activists wrote.
Lieberman is convinced that political elements are seeking to pull out the racist card following his party's merger with the Likud.
"There is a sweeping majority within the Likud which understands that this is our duty at this time. It was clear that there would be objections, and there are some people within the political system who are trying to inflame the situation in order to pull out the racist card. They are clearly afraid."
The foreign minister says secret talks between him and Netanyahu began about a year ago and matured into a deal about two months ago. He rejects claims that Netanyahu was stressed out over the possibility that winning the elections was no longer in his pocket and therefore rushed into a merger with Yisrael Beiteinu.
"This all began way before the polls and the decision to move up the elections. When I talk about a reform, we must reach a reality of four or five large parties."
Lieberman and Netanyahu announce Merger, Thursday (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
So the polls had no effect on your decision to merge?
"Look, I don't believe in all this whole commotion over polls. Every poll being done now has nothing to do with reality. The political system will only reach stability toward the end of November. Only then will the election campaign begin. We shouldn't disregard or ignore polls, but we mustn't take them too seriously."
Lieberman's comments appear puzzling, as both he and Netanyahu are known to live and breathe polls at any given moment. Jewish American political consultant Arthur Finkelstein is their spiritual father when it comes to election campaigns and polls, and quite a few figures compiled by Finkelstein have passed through their hands.
According to one estimate, Netanyahu was concerned that Lieberman would "run away" after the elections with a different partner.
"I've been in politics long enough. Netanyahu has been in politics long enough. We have known each other for 25 years," the foreign minister says. "So there are no talks between us about fears and tricks. We were honest with each other.
"There is something deep in our relationship. It has nothing to do with polls, fears or tricks. We proved for four years, which were quite difficult, that we know how to work together."
Lieberman's press conference, Friday (Photo: Shaul Golan)
During the negotiations, did you discuss a rotation in the prime minister's role?
"That was never discussed. I support Netanyahu as candidate for four years and nine months."
Will you be both foreign minister and acting prime minister?
"I hope to remain foreign minister. At the moment there's no point in discussing other options."
Lieberman reveals that the two parties will have a joint headquarters during the election campaign, as well as one platform, which will surprisingly mention a Palestinian state.
"The Bar-Ilan speech
was an important one. It is an integral part of this government's security and political perception," the foreign minister says of Netanyahu's historic 2009 speech, in which the prime minister expressed his consent for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
"I assume it will be mentioned in the joint platform," Lieberman notes.
Yuval Karni is a Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent