Dramatic development: Israel PM, foreign minister announce Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu merger in special press conference; 'Joining forces will give us the power to defend Israel and generate social and economic change,' Netanyahu said. The two refused to take questions, did not elaborate on the make-up of the new list and did not address the possibility of a rotation.
"We face tremendous challenges and this is the time to join forces for the State of Israel's sake. That is why the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu will run together under one ticket in the next Knesset election."
The prime minister named the challenges the new government will face including the Iranian nuclear program and the anti-terror campaign.
"There is still so much to do, primarily lowering the cost of living. After we stabilized Israel's economy in the wake of the ongoing global crisis, we can continue to focus on reducing the cost of living. This is the time to project power vis-à-vis our enemies as well as internal unity. A prime minister in Israel needs great power and unity."
Netanyahu was followed by Lieberman, who said: "The merger is a combination of experience, force and unity. This is what Israel's citizens expect. Given the challenges, we need national responsibility. Not shreds of the latest trendy parties which vanish after one term."
The dramatic decision was made after secret negotiations between the two men with senior officials from both parties left out of the loop.
The move is aimed at creating the largest list in the Knesset elections thus guaranteeing that Netanyahu will form the next government.
Recent polls have indicated a drop in Likud support rates with the party winning only 24-25 Knesset seats. A senior party officials said that Netanyahu was worried that "Lieberman would run away after the election and therefore decided on an instant merger."
A poll conducted by strategic advisor Arthur Finkelstein, who works with Yisrael Beiteinu, also showed an downward turn for the Likud.
Shortly after the press conference, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid rejected the possibility of a merger between the left-center parties. "The merger sheds light on the current political map – Netanyahu has aligned himself with the radical Right, (Shelly) Yachimovich went way left and the decent moderate Israeli majority cannot identify with yesterday's parties," he said.
Yachimovich on her part has called the centrists to join forces under her leadership and stressed she will not join a government headed by Netanyahu and Lieberman.