Netanyahu invites Liberman to discuss coalition

The two nemeses will meet Thursday morning after not speaking for months

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN gestures to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the President’s Residence on Wednesday. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN gestures to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the President’s Residence on Wednesday.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After months of attacking each other and not speaking, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his nemesis, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, will meet on Thursday morning at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu repeatedly told Likud leaders that there was no reason to speak to Liberman because the Yisrael Beytenu leader is determined to end the prime minister’s political career. But after Blue and White leader Benny Gantz canceled a meeting with Netanyahu, he called Liberman on Wednesday evening.
“There is no point in wasting the country’s time,” Netanyahu told Liberman. “We will meet and see if it is serious or not and decide based on that.”
Liberman wrote on Facebook that he had not changed his mind, and that he would try to persuade Netanyahu to form a unity government with Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu and leave the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties behind.
“We will not be partners in any other government,” Liberman wrote.
Warning against another coalition with the haredim, he added criticism of both Likud and Blue and White for enabling United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni to remain head of the Knesset Finance Committee.
Netanyahu received permission from his coalition partners, including Shas and UTJ, to negotiate with Yisrael Beytenu. Army Radio reported that Liberman summoned his confidant, Jewish National Fund-UK chairman Samuel Hayek from London to handle coalition talks.
“The last thing the country needs is another, third round of elections,” Liberman said during a meeting of his party leaders on Wednesday, according to a party press release. He promised that if no breakthrough will be reached in talks between Blue and White and Likud about forming a unity government by Yom Kippur [Wednesday], his party will present its own offer to both parties. The press release said Liberman is holding informal talks with both Netanyahu and Gantz.
Earlier, Netanyahu convened the leaders of the parties in his Right-Center political bloc and told them he was refusing Gantz’s demand to give up the bloc as a condition for coalition talks.
Netanyahu said he would continue to negotiate on behalf of the bloc of 55 MKs. The party heads urged him to continue efforts to build a coalition before returning to President Reuven Rivlin the mandate to form a government.
While Netanyahu’s associates said on Saturday night that he would likely return the mandate before the Rosh Hashanah holiday started on Sunday evening, he is now expected to wait for the new Knesset to be sworn in on Thursday. If Netanyahu returns the mandate, Rivlin is expected to immediately task Gantz with 28 days to form a government. If he fails, there will be 21 days in which any MK can build a coalition and prevent another election.
Netanyahu blamed Gantz’s No. 2, Yair Lapid, for Blue and White’s unwillingness to sit in a government led by Netanyahu. Sources in Blue and White said Gantz was more willing to accept serving briefly under Netanyahu than Lapid, but if Netanyahu did not give up the bloc, there was nothing to negotiate.
“The only reason there is no unity government is Yair Lapid,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter. “Lapid is holding Benny Gantz hostage, and for some unknown reason, Gantz is surrendering to him. It is unacceptable that Lapid is dragging an entire country to an election, just because he is unwilling to abandon his dream to be prime minister and give up his rotation with Gantz.”
Lapid responded to Netanyahu saying that “Indeed, one person is holding the country hostage, preventing a unity government and doing everything possible to bring about an election: Benjamin Netanyahu.”