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Israeli PM Netanyahu to merge Likud with New Right party

The merger puts pressure on Blue and White party head Benny Gantz, who has 13 days left to form a coalition government
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday that he would be joining forces with erstwhile allies Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett, and merging his right-wing Likud party with their party, the New Right (HaYamin HaHadash).

The merger puts pressure on retired army chief and current Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, who is currently tasked with forming a coalition government after September legislative elections failed to produce a clear winning party and Netanyahu found himself unable to form a government.

Netanyahu is expected to appoint Bennett as his next defence minister, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

Netanyahu has previously sacked Bennett, who was then education minister, and also marginalised Shaked, who served as justice minister until June.

Gantz, whose Blue and White party virtually tied with Likud in September, has 13 days left to form a government.

Both Bennett and far-right Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman have met with Gantz in recent days to discuss forming a political alliance - meetings that likely sparked fear in Netanyahu, who has been holding on to the premiership as he faces a number of corruption investigations.

A Likud statement confirmed on Friday that Netanyahu had met Bennett at his office.

“The prime minister offered to appoint Bennett as defence minister, and Naftali Bennett accepted the offer. The appointment will be brought before the government for approval at the upcoming government meeting,” the statement said. The Likud did not mention offering any particular position to Shaked, who is the current chairwoman of the New Right party.

It added that both Netanyahu and Bennett agreed to immediately form a joint front in the Knesset.