Liberman to be deciding factor in fate of coalition

In a joint statement of Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, both sides reported progress and called the discussion "professional and good."

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman will conduct fateful shuttle diplomacy on Monday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz that will decide whether Gantz will form a minority government by Wednesday night's deadline.
The four leaders of Blue and White decided late Sunday to await the results of Liberman's meeting with Netanyahu before making a final decision on whether to give on forming a unity government and instead build a minority coalition backed from outside by a parliamentary safety net from the Joint List.
"We all agree that taking the country to a third election now would be completely insane," Liberman said at an event in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening. "We have to do everything possible to bring about a wide unity government."
Liberman said that "a minority government would be a disaster." But when asked whether he could enable the formation of a minority government with Arab support, he only responded that avoiding a third election is essential.
"The next 48 hours are critical to understand if we have a unity government," said Liberman, who said he would only announce his final decision late Tuesday night.
Netanyahu and Liberman met for an hour on Sunday at the Prime Minister's Office in Tel Aviv. But Netanyahu had to leave to a rally against a minority government, so the two agreed to continue their meeting on Monday. Netanyahu noticeably made a point of not attacking Liberman in his speech at the rally.
In a joint statement of Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, both sides reported progress and called the discussion "professional and good."
Meanwhile, Blue and White is rapidly advancing coalition agreements with both Yisrael Beytenu and Labor-Gesher. Blue and White agreed to Liberman's demands on drafting yeshiva students, conversion, public transportation and stores remaining open on Shabbat and enabling egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.
"Significant progress has been made toward drafting fundamental principles, particularly with respect to issues of religion and state," Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu said in a joint statement following coalition talks on Sunday afternoon.
The fact that after the meeting representatives of the two parties announced they would meet again late Sunday and Monday was seen as a sign that the coalition talks were very serious.
Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz also used the words "significant progress" following his faction's meeting with Blue and White on Thursday. Talks between Blue and White and Labor-Gesher continued to advance on Sunday.
Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu and Labor-Gesher together have 47 seats. The Democratic Union would give the coalition five more seats. It is possible that either all 13 Joint List MKs, or at least the 10 not affiliated with the extremist Balad Party will support a minority government from outside the coalition with a parliamentary safety net, resulting in a government with 65 or 62 seats. Another possibility is that only four Arab MKs back the coalition, which would be enough to trump Netanyahu's bloc of 55 MKs on the Right.
President Reuven Rivlin said on Sunday during a visit to Netivot that "it is still possible to build a government" and that the gaps between the parties were "personal." He will meet with the Likud's negotiating team on Tuesday and with the heads of Shas, United Torah Judaism and the New Right on Wednesday.
"There is no need for an additional election," Rivlin said. "I call upon Likud and Blue and White to get their act together and realize that the public does not want another election."