(photo credit: REUTERS)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday that he was taken aback by criticism from Likud officials reacting to the Yisrael Beytenu chief's stated willingness to enter a coalition headed by Labor Party chief Isaac Herzog.
Liberman told Army Radio that the Likud officials attacking him are "hysterical" and that their reaction is unbecoming of the party and more suited to "Bayit Yehudi, where there are some really hysterical people."
He attributed the reaction to the buildup of internal pressure bubbling within the Likud with the upcoming internal elections.
Liberman expressed to Army Radio his hope that Yisrael Beytenu surpass a 15-person mandate in the upcoming elections.
He also addressed Netanyahu's upcoming meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome, saying he appreciates US efforts and initiatives to discuss the upcoming vote on a UN resolution that would set a final deadline for Israel's withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.
"I suppose they're not eager to use their veto, and are trying to maximize coordination of viewpoints with others, Israel included," Liberman speculated.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud attacked Liberman for suggesting that he had no preference between Netanyahu and Labor leader Isaac Herzog for prime minister.
Netanyahu and Liberman ran together on a joint list in last year’s election but since then have had several high profile disputes that led to Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu running separately and distancing itself from Likud.
Herzog has said he wants Liberman in a coalition that he would form if he won the March 17 election.
“I don’t rule out Buji [Herzog’s nickname] or Bibi,” Liberman said at a cultural event at Tel Aviv’s Habima Theater. “I don’t disqualify anyone. I think it’s not right.”
He said Yisrael Beytenu was not part of the “anyone- but-Bibi” group of parties, a slogan often heard since the country’s election campaign kicked off last week after the Knesset dispersed itself on Monday.
“We have to be practical” when governing, Liberman said, listing the many coalition members he has served with throughout the years, from Hatnua head Tzipi Livni, to Herzog, to former prime minister Ehud Olmert, with whom his base disagreed on a host of issues.
Liberman attacked Netanyahu’s handling of Operation Protective Edge, accusing him of being “dragged” by Hamas into a limited Gaza Strip ground incursion.
He revealed that Netanyahu attempted to form an alternative government until just before Monday’s vote in the Knesset to dissolve itself.
The Likud has vigorously denied reports that Netanyahu offered Liberman a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office in an effort to persuade him to accept the formation of a coalition with haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties without going to elections.
In a press release, the Likud said Liberman’s statements about not ruling out joining a Labor-led government prove that voting for him takes votes away from the Right and contributes to the Left.
The prime minister’s party stressed that “it is clear that anyone who wants a broad, strong government headed by Netanyahu, based on the Right and Center-Right, must vote Likud.”
Likud leadership candidate Danny Danon said at a rally in Or Yehuda Saturday night that Liberman and Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon needed to make clear to right-wing voters whether casting ballots for them would result in Herzog or Livni becoming prime minister.
Netanyahu said in a speech to Likud activists Thursday that the bond between Herzog and Livni had united the Right. Army Radio political correspondent Ido Benbaji revealed a tape Friday of what Netanyahu said after reporters were asked to leave the closed-door event.
“Hamas, Iran, ISIS [Islamic State] – who will deal with those threats? Buji? Tzipi?” Netanyahu said mockingly.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein attacked Livni on Saturday night, calling her move to a fourth party in several years “political corruption and a bad example for the young generation.”
The Labor Party central committee is to convene Sunday at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds to approve the merger with Hatnua. Current and former Labor ministers and MKs sent a letter Saturday night to central committee members asking them to vote for the deal.
Meanwhile, Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid said Saturday that he would want to return to the Finance Ministry in the next government. He said he was talking to party heads, including Kahlon about the possibility of running together.
“We will talk with everyone in the center who has a similar agenda, and of course that includes Kahlon,” he said Saturday at a cultural event in Ness Ziona. “Everyone is talking with everyone, but mainly the rumors are untrue.”Elia Berger contributed to this report.