Deal with Liberman on judges’ selection raises Likud hopes for coalition

Agreement marks first cooperation between PM and Yisrael Beytenu leader since party rejected Likud’s offer to join coalition.

Avigdor Liberman and Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Avigdor Liberman and Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman reached an agreement Wednesday to cooperate on electing candidates to the influential Judicial Selection Committee, giving hope to the Likud that the razor-thin 61-MK coalition could eventually expand.
The deal marked the first cooperation between Netanyahu and Liberman since Yisrael Beytenu rejected the Likud’s offer to join the coalition.
Likud officials said it was only a matter of time before Liberman realized he had erred and found an excuse to return to the government.
Yisrael Beytenu MKs noticeably absented themselves from key votes in the Knesset Wednesday, enabling the coalition to pass them. The party has even negotiated directly with the Finance Ministry on benefits for immigrants in the state budget.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On called upon National Union leader Isaac Herzog to stop cooperating with Yisrael Beytenu and to oppose the party’s bills. She called Liberman’s party a “fifth column in the opposition,” while Meretz MK Esawi Frej called it “the opposition’s Trojan horse.”
But sources in Yisrael Beytenu said it is a different kind of opposition party that puts its ideology first. They said they would work to advance the nationalist camp in the Knesset and in the Judicial Selection Committee.
According to the deal, the Likud will back Yisrael Beytenu faction chairman Robert Ilatov as the candidate for a slot on the committee reserved for an opposition MK, and Yisrael Beytenu will support the Likud’s candidate for a coalition slot on the committee, MK Nurit Koren.
The Zionist Union had not decided on its candidate by late Wednesday.
Faction head Merav Michaeli said she was looking for a candidate “with gravitas,” but Herzog’s spokesman denied a Channel 10 report that he could be the candidate.
“We will find a candidate who can best win the support of dormant elements in the coalition and win,” Michaeli said.
The Likud lost a vote in the Knesset Wednesday, due to a successful parliamentary maneuver by Michaeli.
The coalition is facing another problem in that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) has refused to give any authority to his Bayit Yehudi deputy, MK Eli Ben-Dahan.
Netanyahu promised Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett that he would solve the problem.
“If they want stability in the coalition, agreements must be upheld,” Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich said.