Likud, Kulanu parties merge: ‘Expect 40 seats in next elections,’ Netanyahu boasts

Kahlon and Netanyahu will form a joint list if new elections are held.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

The Likud and Kulanu parties announced a merger on Tuesday. It means that if a second election is held the two parties will run on a joint list.

The decision was approved by the Likud’s governing secretariat. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the move, saying “Running together will give us 40 mandates.” The Likud won 35 seats in the last Knesset.

Kulanu Leader Moshe Kahlon, who serves as finance minister, said “Kulanu will continue to be a socioeconomic party, right-wing, nationalist and will uphold the values in whose name it was established.”

The union was not met without criticism from members of both parties.

In the Likud, Knesset Members Michal Shir and Ariel Kallner appealed to the Likud’s Supreme Court against the decision, arguing that only the Likud Central Committee has the authority to approve such a merger. The head of the Likud Secretariat, Transportation Minister Israel Katz, said the decision was final. It appears doubtful that their petition will stop the fast-moving unification.

Both Shir and Kallner are near the bottom of the Likud list. Shir is No. 31 and Kallner 34. They fear that a union of the two parties will cost them their seats in a new election as the merger promises Kulanu members the 5th, 15th, 29th and 35th spots. As part of the deal Kahlon will remain as finance minister in the next government.

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Netanyahu attempted to calm the nerves of the party’s newest members, promising to pass a “Norwegian Law” in the next Knesset that would allow up to four members of the party to remain ministers or deputy ministers even if they are not in the Knesset. This would afford the opportunity for Likud members who don’t make it into Israel’s parliament to continue to advance in the party.

Kulanu members are also reportedly unhappy with the move. The Ynet news site quotes former Kulanu member Merav Ben Ari: “We’re not happy. We would be happy if we finished with seven or eight mandates. To say [Kahlon] is happy? No. Clearly, he would prefer at the end of things to prevent this marriage and to run as an independent faction, but with four mandates in the last elections it’s reasonable to assume this won’t happen – and so this is the constellation that was created.”

Kahlon also came under fire from the opposition Blue and White party, pointing out that he had repeatedly promised not to merge with the Likud during the campaign. The party even sent protesters to his home.

The union between Likud and Kulanu came about due to the unexpected difficulties Netanyahu has encountered in forming a governing coalition of right-wing parties, despite the bloc’s solid win in the last elections.

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Netanyahu has until Wednesday midnight to form a new government.