The announcement that Benyamin Netanyahu's Likud Party and Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu will merge prior to the January elections will, assuming is approved by the parties, create a consolidated rightwing secular bloc to fight the Israeli elections, something the two men (who often have been at odds on specific issues) calculate will strengthen their hold on power.
An early poll, however, suggests the merged party might win fewer seats than the two parties running separately, which might frustrate the intention, though they would still easily win the largest bloc of seats. It's also likely that the merger on the right will increase pressuire among the splintered parties of tf the center and left to form some sort of unified bloc of their own,
The calculus is not necessarily as simple as it sounds. Likud has always been a secular party of the right, but it has not been openly hostile to the religious parties, which are almost always necessary to coalition building. Lieberman's party, on the contrary, has been an outspoken opponent of the power of the religious bloc, and vigorously secularist like much of its ex-Soviet immigrant support base. In a year when military service for Yeshiva students has been a divisive issue in Israel, it will be interesting to see how a Likud-Yisrael Beitenu merger handles such issues.
One thing is clear: Yisrael Beitenu is clearly the junior partner. Netanyahu made clear that he never considered any merger plan that would have required a rotation of the Prime Ministership between the leaders: Netanyahu would serve ss PM the entire term. Lieberman seems content with this, acknowledging that compromises must be made.
The fragmented center-left parties have now had a gauntlet thrown down by the rightist parties, who are hoping to lock in their dominance of the Knesset. Whether the center-left can counter with some kind of bloc of their own, or whether indeed they are increasingly irrelevant, may become clearer as the campaign proceeds.