Liberman toning down in coalition talks, Lapid calls to go to opposition

Will Netanyahu have to make do with a 60-seat coalition?

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman at a press conference (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman at a press conference
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman is seeking to moderate the tone in coalition negotiations, as they reach the one-month mark with no agreements signed.
Liberman and haredi MKs, mostly from UTJ, have been sparring over the airwaves, especially over the issue of haredi enlistment.
Yet a senior Yisrael Beytenu source said Thursday that Liberman is “trying to lower the flames.”
“We want to calm things down so negotiations succeed and we can talk about the matters at hand. We will do the maximum so there is progress,” the source said. “At the same time, we won’t give up our principles.”
In that vein, Liberman has instructed Yisrael Beytenu MKs not to give any interviews.
Additionally, he has agreed to the Likud’s requests to support the Norwegian Law, which allows ministers to resign from the Knesset and for the next person on the party’s list to take their place, but for the ministers to re-take their places in the Knesset and for the newer MKs to automatically be kicked out if the ministers leave the cabinet for any reason. He would also back canceling the law limiting the number of ministers in the government to 18; the government being formed is expected to have 26 ministers, costing an estimated extra NIS 48 million annually.
Still, Yisrael Beytenu maintains its original demand to legislate the haredi enlistment law that passed a first reading last year without any changes. The law stipulates rising annual targets for haredi enlistment in the IDF and economic penalties for yeshivas if the targets are not met.
“The haredim say they wanted to make minor changes. We oppose any changes, because we know there are no minor changes possible,” the source said, and accused Shas and UTJ of submitting “a whole megillah” of amendments to the Likud.
Yisrael Beytenu’s other demands are outlawing DNA tests to determine Jewish status, making all pensions at least 70% of minimum wage, the Defense and Immigration Absorption Ministries, and a more aggressive stance towards Gaza.
Meanwhile, Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid tried to tempt Liberman to keep his party in the opposition, in an interview with Kan Reka.
“If Liberman enters the government, he will have to compromise on pensions and once again the Russian public won’t get anything,” Lapid said, referring to Yisrael Beytenu’s demand to increase pensions for all, not just immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.
“If he waits a few months, he will get 55 assured votes from us in order to increase the pensions as much as he promised,” Lapid said. “Together with us, we have 61 votes, a full majority.”
When it was brought to his attention that the expected opposition plus Yisrael Beytenu’s five seats make 60 votes, not 61, Lapid said he has another vote for his side, but would not specify which likely coalition MK would rebel.
UTJ faction leader MK Yaakov Asher also seemed to try to tone down rhetoric around coalition talks, blaming the impasse on a “lack of trust” between Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than criticizing the former.
“Our relations with Liberman are reasonable, but there are times that he tries to use us to improve his political position. He is not hateful,” Asher told ynet.
Still, Asher added, “the Israeli public will not forgive a party that is to blame for going to repeat elections.”
The UTJ MK referred to the possibility of moving forward with a 60-seat coalition, meaning that it will be tied with the opposition. This would make it very difficult for the coalition to function, but it is possible, as long as at least one MK – likely from Yisrael Beytenu – would abstain or vote in favor of forming the government when it is brought before the Knesset.
“It’s a dangerous situation for the government, because Liberman can vote against it at any time and bring it down,” Asher warned.