Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday – that if he caves into United Torah Judaism’s demands to change the IDF draft bill, another election could be on the way.
Speaking at a pre-Passover toast to his party’s activists at Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum, Liberman said that Yisrael Beytenu would endorse Netanyahu to form the next government in a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday, giving him the majority he needs to build a coalition.
But Liberman, who holds the balance of power said he would use it to ensure that “not one comma” be changed in the bill to draft haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva students that he initiated when he was defense minister.
“If the choices are changing the draft bill, going to the opposition, or forcing another election, we will be ready [for an election],” Liberman said to the applause of the Yisrael Beytenu activists.
Liberman vowed that he would not sign a coalition deal until he saw the agreements the Likud reaches with UTJ, Shas and the Union of Right-Wing Parties, which have agreed to operate as one bloc on matters of religion and state.
He rejected charges from UTJ that Yisrael Beytenu is anti-religious, saying that his party is “for tradition and against religious coercion.”
Rivlin intends to officially appoint Netanyahu to form a coalition on Wednesday night, beginning a six-week period to build a government. If Netanyahu does not complete the process by May 29, Rivlin could then ask another candidate, such as Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, to build a coalition.
Liberman ended speculation that he could recommend to the president that a national-unity government be formed with Likud, Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu.
“A unity government can be formed over one key issue like a security threat or economic crisis, but “we don’t want a government of national paralysis,” he said, adding that “the voters had their say, and the Right won.”
Liberman revealed that he wants to return to the Defense Ministry and receive the Immigrant Absorption portfolio for his party. With Liberman’s number two on the list – former Absorption Ministry director-general Oded Forer – expected to receive the portfolio instead of former minister Sofa Landver, there could end up being only two or three female ministers from Likud and none from any other party in the coalition.
“Those who think we will give up our principles for a seat in the government are mistaken,” Liberman warned. “I am not a riddle as the media says. We are the only ones who do what we say we are going to do. We said in the campaign that we will only be part of a right-wing government that acts like one, and our word is our bond.”
Liberman declared victory in the election, in which his party won five seats after polls predicted that it would not cross the electoral threshold. He mocked the pollsters who predicted that former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut Party would be the surprise of the election.
“We won against all the analysts,” he said. “They tried to assassinate me, using total war with means I don’t remember ever being used – like fake polls, psychological warfare, bots and manipulations.
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