Yisrael Beytenu pledges no 4th elections, plan to form gov't remains hazy

Liberman has promised “surprises” and undisclosed “alternate” solutions to Israel’s political crisis after the election.

Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: REUTERS)
Avigdor Liberman
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Avigdor Liberman is the man who started it all. The mercurial Yisrael Beytenu leader has frequently been given the responsibility, or more accurately the blame, for the ongoing political crisis, since he could long ago have helped form a right-wing government.
In the April election, right-wing parties received 65 seats, including Yisrael Beytenu’s five MKs, and it looked like a new right-wing government would swiftly be formed.
But Liberman again refused to join with the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties and to concede to their demands on sensitive issues of religion and state, and the country went to unprecedented repeat elections.
Regardless of whether this was a cynical ploy to rebrand his party and regain political relevance, or a principled stance against the stranglehold haredi and hard-line religious-Zionist parties have over critical aspects of the Jewish state, it worked for Liberman.
He embarked on a ferocious campaign, attacking – some say inciting against – the haredi parties and at times their supporters. This gave Yisrael Beytenu a big boost in the second election in September, where it jumped from five to eight seats, and it almost got a ninth.
This time, in the third election campaign, the charm has worn off somewhat. But it appears the party has done enough to prevent the kind of erosion of its voter base that would endanger its political power.
Liberman and his party have engaged in the same invective against their haredi boogeymen, making claims about the amount of money channeled to those communities instead of to the health and education systems, for example.
Yisrael Beytenu has kept banging the drum over how ultra-Orthodox men do not serve in the IDF, how only approximately half are employed and how the haredi parties stop secular Israelis from having public transportation over the weekend and prevent them from marrying in civil ceremonies.
However, Liberman has changed his political stance since the last campaign. He has openly called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign, adding that he would sit in a government with the left-wing Meretz Party, something he ruled out ahead of the September election.
It appears that Liberman is more intent on removing Netanyahu from power than he was previously. Although he remains the ultranationalist he always has been, he no longer wants to prop up a Netanyahu government beholden to the haredi parties and the more extreme elements in the religious-Zionist Yamina Party.
Throughout most of the campaign since September, Yisrael Beytenu has polled consistently at seven or eight seats, demonstrating that although there is a lack of enthusiasm for the party beyond its eight-seat ceiling, its message against the haredim continues to resonate.
Several polls have put the party down to six seats, indicating that Liberman’s voter base may be getting tired of his various unfulfilled promises and his decision not to pick a side during coalition negotiations after the September election.
Liberman justifiably says Blue and White and Likud could have formed a unity government without Yisrael Beytenu after the September election. But that apparently does not stop some of his voters from thinking their vote may be better cast decisively in favor of one of the blocs in an attempt to end they interminable cycle of elections.
Following the election, Yisrael Beytenu, with likely six or seven seats, will continue to refuse to join a narrow right-wing government comprising the haredi parties and Yamina.
But Liberman has also vowed that he would not form a government that is dependent on the support of the Joint List of Arab parties either, if they are in the coalition, or would simply refrain from toppling a minority government led by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.
Liberman realizes he cannot reverse himself on sitting with the haredi parties, because it likely would spell the end of his political career, as would cooperating with the Arab parties, against whom he has wielded similar invective, describing them as a fifth column.
But he also has asserted that there will not be fourth elections.
Liberman has promised “surprises” and undisclosed “alternate” solutions to Israel’s political crisis after the election. But what rabbits he can pull out of the hat come March 3 remains as nebulous as ever.