Eight days left to coalition talks but unity government still not close

Coalition battle escalates into all-out war between Likud, Yisrael Beytenu.

Heads of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. Avigdor Liberman, Head of rightist Yisrael Beiteinu party. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, December 2, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Heads of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. Avigdor Liberman, Head of rightist Yisrael Beiteinu party. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, December 2, 2018
With just over a week remaining until the October 24 deadline to either form a government or return the mandate to President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not negotiate with any potential partners for the 12th consecutive day on Tuesday.
The prime minister’s last negotiating meeting was with Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman on October 3, and the last time he met with Blue and White was on September 27, before Gantz’s party canceled a meeting with the Likud team and between Gantz and Netanyahu set for October 1.
Sources in Likud confirmed that one of the reasons Netanyahu is not negotiating is that he wants to stall to allow Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to make a decision on his indictment. Netanyahu is seemingly convinced that Mandelblit will drop the bribery charge against him. Should Mandelblit make such a decision before the three weeks in which any candidate can form a government, Likud sources said Netanyahu believes he will have a much easier time building a coalition.
Liberman, who is thought to be the political kingmaker, lashed out at the Likud on Tuesday, blaming Netanyahu’s party for the current political impasse. Speaking following a tour of Herodion National Park with his MKs, Liberman lamented that the Likud did not agree to his request last week to begin immediate negotiations with Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu over the policies of the next government.
“We are still waiting for a response from the Likud’s negotiating team to our request to start meeting and drafting guidelines acceptable to the majority of the people of Israel,” Liberman said. “Unfortunately the answer has still not come, but we have time and patience, so we will wait.”
The political fight over who will form the next government reached a new peak on Tuesday, as Likud and Yisrael Beytenu escalated their fierce mutual recriminations.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s close political ally, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, accused Liberman on Tuesday of causing the September 17 election – and perhaps another – out of revenge, because Netanyahu and Katz prevented him from joining Likud.
“Liberman carried out political assassination against Netanyahu and Likud out of personal revenge and a desire to destroy the Likud,” Katz said at his annual Sukkot party at his home in Moshav Kfar Ahim in the northern Negev.
“The same man did not stop knocking on the Likud’s door in an effort to join the party in recent years,” he said.
Katz called upon his neighbor in Kfar Ahim, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, to negotiate with him in his sukkah on a Netanyahu-led national unity government. He said there is no possibility of a government without Likud, and no possibility of a Likud without Netanyahu, but vowed that in the post-Netanyahu era he will be the next Likud leader and prime minister.
Liberman’s comments came after anonymous Likud sources were quoted using the same talking points in various media outlets, saying Netanyahu had not yet given up on forming a coalition because Liberman had yet to commit to not supporting a minority left-wing government with the Joint Arab List, and Yisrael Beytenu was providing a political safety net from outside the coalition.
The Yisrael Beytenu leader complained about the accusation.
“The only one who has collaborated with the Arab MKs over the years since [the late Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser] Arafat and Wye Plantation is Netanyahu,” Liberman said.
He pointed out that Netanyahu got the support of Arab MKs for dispersing the Knesset when he failed to form a government after the April election, and in the vote for State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman. Liberman called on Netanyahu to break
up the Likud’s political bloc with right-wing and religious parties.
UTJ MK Moshe Gafni, however, expressed confidence that Netanyahu will not abandon haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties to form a government without them, in a recording published by Walla News.
“There’s no reality in which he leaves us,” Gafni said. “He doesn’t have the ability, and he doesn’t want to. We’re going with him and he’s going with us.”
Gafni also predicted that Gantz won’t be able to form a government, and said that Liberman could go back on his word and has in the past.
Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked told supporters in Hashmonaim on Tuesday that Liberman needed to facilitate the formation of a right-wing government, or Gantz needed to allow Netanyahu to lead a unity government.
With the future of the next government still up in the air, Netanyahu canceled his plans to travel to Japan next week.
The Israeli media had initially reported on the trip on Tuesday morning, but the Prime Minister’s Office never confirmed it. The Israeli media then reported that the trip had been canceled.
Netanyahu’s visit next week would have allowed him to attend the enthronement ceremony of Japanese Emperor Naruhito scheduled for October 22-24. The ceremony formally recognizing his ascension to the crown will be held on October 22,
and will attract world leaders. US President Donald Trump is not expected to attend the ceremony.
Netanyahu has twice traveled to Japan as prime minister, in 1997 and again in 2014. But both those trips occurred before Shinzo Abe became Japanese Prime Minister in 2015.
Abe has visited Israel twice, in 2015 and again in 2018. That last trip included an Israeli diplomatic faux pas in which a chocolate dessert was served in a decorative shoe during a private dinner between Abe and his wife, Akie, and Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
Netanyahu had planned to visit Japan in July of this year during the election campaign, but canceled at the last moment.