Liberman and Netanyahu at Likud Beytenu faction meeting 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s effort to form a broad national-unity
government took a backward step on Tuesday when his No. 2 in Likud Beytenu,
former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, bashed Yesh Atid leader Yair
Liberman, who is concerned Lapid will take the Foreign Ministry
portfolio that he desires, avoided overtures from the Yesh Atid chairman on the
Knesset floor. Earlier, at a Likud Beytenu faction meeting, Liberman slammed
Lapid’s statements about running for prime minister in the next
“This is a new phenomenon in Israeli politics,” Liberman
“The man just got elected. He didn’t even warm his chair in the
Knesset for a single day and he is already not talking about the country or the
middle class. He is no longer asking ‘Where is the money?’ [the name of Lapid’s
newspaper column]. He is only asking one question: When will he already be prime
Lapid’s spokeswoman declined to comment about Liberman’s
statements or to reveal what Lapid told Netanyahu when he whispered in his ear
on the Knesset floor. But in closed conversations, Lapid appeared to indicate
that he would choose the Foreign Ministry.
The deal between Likud and
Yisrael Beytenu gives Liberman his choice of the top three portfolios, but if
Lapid demands the Foreign Ministry, it will be hard for Netanyahu to say no. In
such a scenario, Liberman is likely to be given the Finance portfolio, but only
if he is cleared of the charges against him following a trial that could take as
long as a year.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz could keep his
post. Steinitz acknowledged but would not confirm rumors that he is Netanyahu’s
choice to be Knesset speaker in a year if MK Reuven Rivlin returns to the post
but is elected president in 2014.
Another possibility is that Netanyahu
will return Vice Premier Silvan Shalom to the Finance Ministry, where he served
under former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Netanyahu and Shalom met at the
Knesset on Tuesday for an hour.
The prime minister also had a lengthy
meeting at the Knesset with Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich. Yacimovich said
the meeting was interesting but Labor would not join the coalition because the
gaps with the Likud on socioeconomic issues and the peace process were too
“I am under tremendous pressure from inside my party to join the
government,” Channel 10 quoted Yacimovich as saying in closed conversations. “I
won’t even form a coalition negotiating team, because if I do, it will be hard
to stop us from going in.”
Netanyahu did not meet with Bayit Yehudi
chairman Naftali Bennett, but he did shake the hand of his former chief of staff
for the first time in years.
Likud sources said Netanyahu was upset at
reports that Bennett had reached an understanding with Lapid that either both
their parties, or neither, would join the next government.
to Bennett downplayed the reports of an understanding, but said he had no choice
but to cooperate with Lapid while Netanyahu was giving him a cold
Netanyahu reiterated in a speech to Likud Beytenu MKs that he
intended to form a broad coalition. His associates said that meant having 80 MKs
in the coalition so no faction, including the 19-MK Yesh Atid, could topple
“This is the time for unity and responsibility,” the prime minister
said. “The election is over. Our enemies and our challenges do not rest
for a moment. It is time to join forces and to form as broad a national-unity
government as possible.”