Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition seems increasingly likely to remain with its current 61 members when the Knesset summer session begins next week as negotiations with opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) stalled and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman publicly rebuffed Netanyahu’s overtures Sunday.
In a meeting with coalition party leaders, Netanyahu said he had received “signals” from Liberman in recent days and called on him to “disconnect from [Joint List MK Haneen] Zoabi and enter the government.”
The prime minister also said that, as a gesture to Yisrael Beytenu, he would work on helping immigrants from the former Soviet Union receive pensions commensurate with work they did before moving to Israel.
Liberman immediately waved off Netanyahu’s comments as “spin,” denying he sent any signals the prime minister’s way.
“Netanyahu is once again doing the total opposite of what he promised in the last election and is negotiating with Tzipi [Livni] and Buji [Isaac Herzog], with the party that just a year ago he said the members of which are not Zionists and threatened that ‘it’s us or them,’” Liberman wrote on Facebook.
The Yisrael Beytenu chairman said negotiations with the Zionist Union are “not surprising because the Netanyahu government is not right-wing. It does not fight terrorism, it contains it... It does not build in Jerusalem or settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria, returns terrorists’ bodies and, in short, any connection between it and the nationalist camp is a total coincidence.”
“Bibi wants Buji, and all the rest is garbage,” he added.
However, Liberman said that if Netanyahu makes a “serious and true offer,” he will consider it.
As for the Zionist Union’s chances of joining the coalition, Netanyahu said in the meeting with coalition party leaders that negotiations are stuck and unlikely to come to fruition.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon asked Netanyahu if the problem is with the portfolios Zionist Union MKs would receive or with principles, and the prime minister answered that there are issues with both.
Last week, Herzog published a Facebook post with a litany of demands that must be fulfilled for his party to join the coalition, including restarting peace talks, giving him responsibility for fighting international boycotts and lowering the cost of living.
Meanwhile, only one MK in his party, Eitan Broshi, has had anything positive to say about joining the government, and Herzog’s competition for Labor leader – MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Erel Margalit – have come out strongly against it, with the former threatening to wield her considerable power within the party to block the move.
Herzog’s number-two in Zionist Union, Livni, also made it clear that she and her Hatnua MKs would remain in the opposition, breaking up the Zionist Union – her party’s partnership with Labor.
On Saturday night, Labor activists demonstrated outside Herzog’s house against the negotiations.
Herzog found support for the talks from Histadrut Labor Union chairman Avi Nissenkorn.
“I don’t understand the assault [on Herzog],” Nissenkorn told Army Radio. “If there’s an option for a real unity government, it is legitimate to consider it, and if we really know how to create true unity that can lead to a diplomatic agreement, a socioeconomic outline, then we must take it seriously.”
Meanwhile, in Likud, MK Oren Hazan took credit as being the reason Netanyahu is negotiating to expand the coalition.
“One of the main reasons Bibi wants a unity government is because of me,” Hazan said.
“He knows I stand up for what I believe in, and I don’t just threaten, I do what I say, and he’s very worried about it. I only care about the citizens, not about anyone else or what people will think.”
With a 61-seat coalition, anyone can undermine its stability to some extent, but Hazan has been a repeat offender and was removed from Knesset committees for his constant truancy from the Knesset without coordinating with the coalition chairman.
Other recent coalition rebels were Likud MKs Avraham Neguise and David Amsalem, who absented themselves from all votes in protest of the Prime Minister’s Office decision to delay immigration from Ethiopia.