Liberman may support Arab-backed coalition if Netanyahu won’t drop haredim

"The most important thing is that we don't have another election," Liberman said.

AVIGDOR LIBERMAN – a need to reinvent himself. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
AVIGDOR LIBERMAN – a need to reinvent himself.
Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Liberman indicated that he would facilitate the establishment of a minority coalition supported by the Joint List if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not give up on his 55-seat bloc of religious and right-wing parties.
Liberman’s comments on Saturday came a day after Blue and White leader Benny Gantz – who has less than two weeks until his deadline to build a government – said his party is exploring options other than a unity government, which he accused the Likud of not being interested in forming.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu decided that New Right co-leader Naftali Bennett would be appointed defense minister in the interim government, and that the New Right will join the Likud’s faction in the Knesset, meaning Likud has 35 seats to Blue and White’s 33.
However, Liberman said Netanyahu has to give up on the “haredi-messianic” bloc, likely a reference to Shas, United Torah Judaism and parts of Bayit Yehudi, and not the New Right, a mixed religious-secular right-wing party.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz “has to accept the president’s outline, and Netanyahu has to give up on his bloc,” Liberman told Channel 12 News. “I expect both to make these decisions… We want to see a unity government.”
The “president’s outline” is President Reuven Rivlin’s plan for a rotation for the premiership that would create a deputy prime minister position, which would not require Netanyahu to resign from the cabinet while handling his legal troubles.
“I will talk to both of them this week,” Liberman said. “If someone does not make the right decision, we in Yisrael Beytenu will draw conclusions. If someone does not make the right decision, we will support the other side.”
Currently, the apparent alternatives to a unity government is Gantz forming a 44-seat minority government with Labor-Gesher and Democratic Union, which would work if the Joint List votes in favor and Yisrael Beytenu abstains or votes in favor; Netanyahu forming a government with his right-wing bloc, which would be either a minority supported by Yisrael Beytenu from the outside or a narrow majority with Liberman as part of it; or a third election in less than a year.
If Netanyahu gives up on his right-wing bloc as Liberman and Blue and White demand, his only option is a unity government. If Netanyahu stays with the bloc, then Gantz won’t form a unity government with him, which means that Liberman would be supporting a minority government.
Asked if he would support the scenario of a minority government with support from the Joint List, Liberman dodged the question, responding: “The most important thing for the State of Israel right now is to prevent a third election and have a unity government.”
Liberman’s remarks dovetail with Gantz’s Facebook post, in which he wrote: “Our first mission was and remains establishing a broad, liberal unity government. At the same time, we are examining other options to establish a government if negotiations with Likud do not come to fruition.”
Gantz faces strong opposition from Telem, the right-wing party within Blue and White, as well as some within his own Hosen party, to forming a minority government supported by the Joint List because the faction is anti-Zionist, and has MKs who have expressed support for terrorist organizations.
A source in Telem told The Jerusalem Post last month that the party would consider leaving Blue and White if such a government is established.
The Blue and White leader also said on Friday that Netanyahu’s 55-seat bloc indicates a lack of interest on the latter’s part in forming a government, and accused him of trying to bring about a third election, which is “a disaster for the country.”
Likud’s spokesman said Gantz is “using any excuse not to establish the government the citizens of Israel want: a national unity government. Gantz is dragging Israel to an unnecessary election while Israel needs a strong unity government facing Iran, which endangers our existence.”
He also accused Gantz of being unwilling to compromise, while saying Likud is willing to make concessions, but did not specify what they are.
Netanyahu and Bennett agreed on Friday that the latter would be defense minister instead of Netanyahu, who held the portfolio in addition to the premiership. The agreement only applies to the interim government, meaning until a new government is formed.
In addition, the New Right and Likud will now merge into one faction in the 22nd Knesset. The parties did not merge, and Netanyahu told Likud ministers on Saturday that Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, co-leader of the New Right, did not join Likud and will not be promised spots in the Likud’s list for the next Knesset.
Shaked wrote on Facebook that Netanyahu offered the New Right either two small portfolios – the Welfare, Agriculture or Diaspora Affairs ministries – or that Bennett would become defense minister, and the two decided it was more important for the latter to happen.
“Significant things can be done even in the interim government” in the Defense Ministry, Shaked said. “Unfortunately, there is a real chance that we will be dragged into an election for the third time, and therefore, [Bennett’s tenure] could be a long time.”
In December, Bennett and Shaked issued an ultimatum to Netanyahu that he appoint Bennett defense minister or they will resign, triggering an election, but they backed down.
At the time, the Likud spokesman called Bennett’s behavior “a juvenile horror show,” and said “Israel’s security is above politics and the defense portfolio is not just a job for Naftali Bennett.”
Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, who left the Likud and resigned from the government and the Knesset in 2016 when Liberman was appointed to the role, said: “Netanyahu sold even the job of defense minister, a sensitive and complex job, to the next obsequious person in line in exchange for a few more days of mercy in his race to run away from the defendant’s bench. Netanyahu only cares about Netanyahu. He is the obstacle to a unity government.”