Netanyahu, Liberman headed to showdown Monday at Knesset

Yisrael Beytenu head shuns PM's last-ditch effort to avoid elections

WILL THEY laugh again in a few weeks? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: REUTERS)
WILL THEY laugh again in a few weeks? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The new Knesset that was sworn in four weeks ago is set to vote at 4 p.m. local time on Monday on the first reading of a bill to disperse itself, which would be the first and last bill it would get to vote on if it passes.
The dramatic vote, which must pass an additional two times, would take place if no solution is found to the crisis over haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein visited Netanyahu’s office to discuss the logistics of elections. Likud MK Miki Zohar, who was expected to become chairman of the new coalition, said he would file a bill to disperse the Knesset. Blue and White told him the party opposed the move. Hadash-Ta’al co-chairman Ahmed Tibi told him he was in favor.
“The bill to disperse the Knesset should already be brought today,” Tibi said.
Netanyahu proposed a compromise on conscription late Sunday that was approved by United Torah Judaism and its Agudat Yisrael Council of Torah Sages, as well as the Union of Right-wing Parties, and could help him build a coalition by Wednesday night’s deadline.
But Liberman rejected the offer, calling it a transparent attempt to shift blame for initiating another election from Netanyahu to him.
“After a failed attempt to form a government under the ideal conditions, we expect the prime minister to put more pressure on the haredi parties and the rabbis who stand behind them,” Yisrael Beytenu said.
Liberman’s party leaked to Channel 13 that he had met twice recently with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose New Right party would not run again after failing to cross the electoral threshold. The channel also broadcast an anonymous poll that found that a Liberman-Shaked combination would win 10 seats.
But Shaked told Likud activists who are loyal to her that she was still en route to their party. She would, however, need the Likud leader’s permission to run within three years of her joining the party, a move that could be blocked by Netanyahu due to their poor relationship.
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu invited all of his potential coalition partners, including Liberman, to meet with him in hopes of ending the stalemate in coalition talks. But Liberman refused to come, saying his “views are known and there is nothing to talk about.”
Netanyahu met with Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon and the heads of the Union of Right-wing parties, and United Torah Judaism and is set to meet with Shas leader Arye Deri on Monday morning.
“I am now making my last effort to form a right-wing government and to prevent unnecessary elections,” Netanyahu said in a video on Sunday.
Netanyahu stopped his attacks on Liberman and expressed confidence that a compromise could be reached on the conscription law that caused the crisis.
“I gave the partners a proposal for a solution,” he said. “It is based on the principles established by the army and on the data that the army has established. There is no reason to reject this. I’m going to invite all party leaders tonight, I want to talk to them and try together to prevent unnecessary elections.”
Earlier on Sunday in a meeting of Likud ministers, Netanyahu said, “Liberman is looking for any excuse to bring me down,” and “the public will not forgive him for taking it to elections twice in a year.”
In response, Liberman said that “It’s an understatement that the prime minister’s threats and blaming of me don’t bring me closer to the negotiating table.”
Netanyahu told the ministers that he had ordered the Likud’s governing secretariat to prepare for elections, and reportedly said the campaign would redouble its efforts in the Russian-speaking sector to target Yisrael Beytenu voters. The secretariat will vote on a proposal to cancel the Likud’s primaries for party leader and the party’s list for the next Knesset.
Netanyahu told his ministers that the Likud invited Kahlon to run together if another election would be held. He said small parties needed to realize that in another election, the two largest parties would continue getting stronger at their expense.
Netanyahu has until Wednesday night to tell President Reuven Rivlin that he has enough support to build a coalition, and until next Monday to present coalition agreements that would have to be voted on two days later.
“With good will, we can solve the coalition problem. I do not think that we have to go to elections,” Netanyahu said after Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “The haredi parties made a 90% advance to accept Liberman’s demands but he won’t make the extra mile for them.”
But when UTJ leader Yaakov Litzman was asked outside the cabinet meeting whether he could be flexible on the conscription law, he said: “I don’t know the word flexibility. Why concede? Someone else can compromise.”