The Knesset building in Givat Ram, Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Efforts to put together Israel’s next coalition continued in full force on Friday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett met in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. The meeting, their first since late March, took an hour-and-a-half and the two politicians agreed to continue the dialogue, a Bayit Yehudi spokesperson said.
Netanyahu will also meet Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman later today, as part of the coalition-forming process, now in its fourth week. The prime minister has until Tuesday to establish a government or ask President Reuven Rivlin for a two-week extension until May 6th.
Earlier on Friday Liberman promised to revamp strained US-Israel relations, telling Israel Radio that the "first task of Israel's Foreign Ministry will be to rehabilitate ties with the United States."
"We are going to pay a very high price" – in relations with Europe, in the UN Security Council, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' legal push at the International Criminal Court – "without the cooperation of the US," he said, warning that "the stakes are very high."
Liberman slammed a measure by 16 European Union foreign ministers to label West Bank settlement products as hypocritical and cynical. He blasted the EU for focusing on this while ignoring far graver issues in the region, from the siege of the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus to the Syrian civil war to the fighting in Yemen.
He suggested that European leaders mark products from Judea and Samaria with a yellow Star of David to "fit perfectly" with the sentiment of a letter they co-signed on Thursday calling for the special labeling of items produced beyond the Green Line.
Turning to domestic politics, the longtime Yisrael Beytenu leader ruled out a unity government with the leftist Zionist Union party, a move he said would "paralyze" the government because "there is no ideological common ground with them." He also firmly rejected expanding the government beyond 18 ministers.
Liberman debunked claims of infighting between his party and the right-wing Bayit Yehudi faction, calling them baseless "Likud spins" meant to satisfy the media.
He also opposed changing the conversion law passed in the last Knesset that made it easier to convert to Judaism. The ultra-Orthodox parties have demanded significant changes to the law as a condition for joining the government.
The hot-button issue of portfolios and ministerial posts would not be raised during Friday's meeting with Netanyahu, the minister said. Rather, talks would focus on policy matters such as enacting a death penalty for terrorists.
"We made a big mistake in Operation Protective Edge," Liberman said in response to a question about simmering disagreements with Netanyahu over last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. "It was a mistake to leave the coastal enclave with Hamas still in power."
The fact that the organization "is rearming, the fact that it is still shooting and smuggling weapons...that it is testing rockets and building tunnels" is an omen of things to come, he lamented. "The next confrontation is only a matter of time."
"We cannot have three million Israelis running to bomb shelters every two years," he said. "And so...one of the next government's goals will have to be toppling Hamas."
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