Liberman weighs return to a right-wing coalition

Shaked mediating between Yisrael Beytenu head, haredim, PM says Gantz snubbing him after awkward encounter

Avigdor Liberman at the Maariv/Jerusalem Post election conference on September 11 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Avigdor Liberman at the Maariv/Jerusalem Post election conference on September 11
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman is considering a return to the right-wing bloc, which would give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a 63-seat governing majority and a coalition similar to the one he had before this election year.
New Right co-chairwoman Ayelet Shaked has been mediating between Liberman and haredi parties Shas and UTJ to facilitate a right-wing government and avoid a third election in less than a year.
Shaked talked to the leaders of the haredi factions about ways they can compromise on matters of religion and state and said she believes “the gaps can be bridged and we can establish a narrow right-wing coalition.”
One indication that Liberman is weighing this option seriously is that he canceled Monday’s Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting, which he usually uses as an opportunity to hold a press conference.
A source in the party said that Liberman is formulating a “final decision” about his party’s position in the current impasse in coalition negotiations. He plans to consult with current and past MKs as well as Yisrael Beytenu members and make a decision by the end of the week.
Liberman has insisted publicly up to this point that he wants a unity government based on Likud and Blue and White, even if Yisrael Beytenu is left out of it.
Yisrael Beytenu left a right-wing coalition in late 2018, which was one of the catalysts of early elections, and has major policy differences with Shas and UTJ on which they have thus far refused to compromise, such as passing a law to increase haredi enlistment to the IDF.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu lamented that Blue and White is avoiding negotiations with Likud.
Netanyahu’s comment came shortly after an awkward public encounter with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony in the Knesset for Shas spiritual leader and former Sephardi chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The two briefly shook hands as Netanyahu walked by Gantz on his way to his seat at the dais, which was separated from Gantz by Shas leader Arye Deri sitting in the middle.
New Right co-leader Naftali Bennett, who spoke shortly after Netanyahu’s arrival, said to him and Gantz: “In the name of this whole house, I implore you to rise above the day-to-day issues and build a national-unity government in Israel.”
Deri said Ovadia Yosef “begged for there to be broad governments. I repeat and ask the prime minister and Gantz” to establish one.
Netanyahu referred to a folk song based on Psalms in his remarks: “What is good and pleasant as brothers – and sisters – sitting together. That is the wish of many in the nation.”
Immediately after the memorial, the heads of parties in the 55-seat right-wing bloc met in Netanyahu’s office.
The prime minister said that after he met with Gantz last week, they agreed to another meeting, but soon after Blue and White started to brief the media against him. In addition, he said that the Blue and White team has been ignoring attempts to hold further negotiations.
“We agreed to major concessions, we asked to get answers from Gantz and I haven’t gotten answers to any questions,” Netanyahu told the other party leaders.
At the end of the meeting, the right-wing bloc made a joint statement called on Gantz to form a government with them to avoid a third election. The party leaders emphasized that they will not support a minority government nor will they join a government separately from the rest of the bloc.
Blue and White said: “It’s the height of irony. Netanyahu brings together the bloc of paralysis and spreads empty slogans. Netanyahu’s behavior shows that he doesn’t want unity; he wants a coalition that will give him immunity.”
“Netanyahu knows the way to a liberal unity government that the nation wants,” the party continued. “The Likud chairman and Likud leadership must wake up and not drag Israel to an unnecessary and costly third election.”
Blue and White refuses to negotiate with Likud as the head of the bloc; rather, they want to talk to each party on its own.
The other major obstacle to negotiations is the question of who will be prime minister first in a potential rotation. Remaining prime minister would likely give Netanyahu an advantage in dealing with his legal troubles, but Blue and White sources have said they don’t trust Netanyahu to actually hand over the job to Gantz in a rotation.
Netanyahu and Bennett met one-on-one after the meeting, and as part of his efforts to keep the bloc together, the former offered the latter a ministry and membership in the security cabinet. However, Bennett declined and said it’s not necessary, because he does not think he can be effective in an interim government. Bennett added that he remains committed to the right-wing bloc and prefers to focus his energy on helping build a coalition and prevent a third election. Netanyahu did not make a similar offer to Shaked.
Also Monday, the Likud elected MK Miki Zohar as its new faction chairman.
Although Netanyahu did not openly support Zohar or his opponent MK Yoav Kisch, Zohar was seen as Netanyahu’s candidate because the two have worked closely in the past year.
Zohar received 18 votes to Kisch’s 11 in a private ballot vote.