"I have heard much talk about successors, but I intend to lead the state for many years to come," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Likud conference after Monday's vote.
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Earlier in the evening, the prime minister urged members of the committee to "vote for a strong Likud, for a strong prime minister, for a strong government and a strong Israel."
"We vote today for a merger that won't alter the Likud but will change the State of Israel," he said. "Joining forces will give us the strength to rule, to act, to change and to govern Israel with might."
Likud Central Committee, following approval of merger (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
Opponents protest (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
The deal between Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman unites the two parties under one Knesset ticket.
"The Likud will remain an independent party, which will continue to protect Israel and maintain its legacy," Netanyahu said on Monday.
Opponents of the deal, led by Minister Michael Eitan, expressed concern that Lieberman would take over the party and become Netanyahu's successor. They attempted to call for a secret vote, hoping that a covert process would undermine the merger. But the effort failed when they couldn't gather enough signatures in favor of the move.
Early in the meeting, members of the committee received a one-sentence memo describing the deal that was up for their approval. The document said that Likud and Israel "agree to run together" and that the Knesset seats are to be divided proportionally between the two factions – with Likud getting 27 mandates and Yisrael Beiteinu getting 15.
The full details of the merger – for instance, how many spots each party will get on the Knesset ticket, or how involved Netanyahu and Lieberman will be in putting the list together – were not given to the politicians prior to the vote.
Dozens of Meretz supporters and activists calling for a universal army draft gathered outside the Tel Aviv Convention Center, where the vote was taking place, for a protest.
"We have come here to ask the prime minister to look us in the eye," activist Idan miller said. "He promised us to do everything to promote equal sharing of the (defense) burden but instead chose to make a shady deal with Lieberman."
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