Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman announced at a Knesset press conference Monday that he would ask the Knesset House Committee to break up his Yisrael Beytenu party’s partnership with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud.
The departure of Yisrael Beytenu’s 11 MKs from the combined Likud Beytenu faction will leave Likud with only 20 seats, just one more than Yesh Atid, and in danger of losing its status as the Knesset’s largest. If, as expected, Liberman appoints Likud MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen as ambassador to the OECD in Paris, Yisrael Beytenu MK Alex Miller will enter the Knesset, bringing the party up to 12 seats, the same as Bayit Yehudi.
Liberman revealed his decision to Netanyahu before the press conference, a day after they fought fiercely over the prime minister’s response to Hamas terrorism at Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
“It is no secret that there had been disagreements with the prime minister that do not allow continuing the framework of Likud Beytenu,” Liberman said. “The connection didn’t work during the election or after [it]. There was no point in hiding it anymore.”
Netanyahu, in response, told confidants that he was determined not to give in to pressure from the Right. He said he would make responsible, well-thought-out decisions without considering their political cost.
Liberman stressed that the move was not intended to harm Netanyahu or bring about early elections.
He said the newly independent Yisrael Beytenu faction would not take any disciplinary steps against the coalition, such as MKs absenting themselves from no-confidence motions.
“The coalition will continue because there’s no better alternative and because the next election won’t change the makeup of the Knesset and its blocs,” Liberman said. “We don’t want to weaken the government or advance the election. But we do expect changes in the fight against terrorism.”
But Liberman mocked the coalition for its diversity on diplomatic issues. He said he had never seen in a coalition ideological differences wider than those between Bayit Yehudi MK Orit Struck, who lives in Hebron, and Yesh Atid’s Health Minister Yael German, who was formerly in Meretz.
In private conversations, Liberman vowed that Yisrael Beytenu would run alone in the next election, denying reports that he would seek a partnership with popular former communications minister Moshe Kahlon.
Liberman defended embattled Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and the police, who have faced harsh criticism for their handling of the kidnapping of the three Jewish teens. Likud officials said that if Liberman thinks Israel has been too soft on Israeli Arabs, he has only Aharonovitch from his own party to blame.
Coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) thanked Liberman and other Yisrael Beytenu MKs for their cooperation since the formation of the joint faction. He criticized Liberman for ending the partnership during a tense security situation.
“Even though both parties knew we would not be running together in the next election, he should have displayed responsibility and tried to continue working together in the current Knesset, rather than engage in petty politics during such a complex time.”
Levin expressed confidence that Liberman’s move would backfire and would result in Likud gaining voters at Yisrael Beytenu’s expense.
He said there were many Likud supporters who did not vote for the party in the last election because it ran with Yisrael Beytenu.
Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely said Liberman’s step was typical of what she called “his shameful and hypocritical behavior throughout his career.”
Labor leader Isaac Herzog expressed confidence that Liberman’s move would lead to the breakup of the government. He said that if he lacked confidence in the prime minister, Liberman should have quit the cabinet and not just broken up the factions.
Sarah Gruen and Jacob Goldstein contributed to this report.