Right tries to win over Liberman as Gantz’s deadline looms
With only two days left until Gantz's mandate to form a government ends, the right has called for Liberman to join a coalition under Netanyahu.
By LAHAV HARKOV, GIL HOFFMAN
Members of the 55-seat religious-Right bloc tried to convince Yisrael Beytenu Avigdor Liberman to return to them in a coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but many obstacles remained on Monday.Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has two days left until his mandate to form a government ends, and he lamented that Netanyahu is not negotiating with him in earnest to build a unity coalition.Liberman has called for a unity government since the September 17 election, but he set a deadline for one in a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting. If Likud and Blue and White do not form a government together by Wednesday at noon, Liberman will explore other options.The Yisrael Beytenu leader met with Netanyahu on Monday night, and the meeting ended after press time. Liberman met with Gantz earlier in the day. The coalition kingmaker has been conducting shuttle diplomacy between the large parties’ leaders in an effort to form a national unity government.New Right leader Ayelet Shaked continued her efforts on the part of the Right to convince Liberman to join them and establish a government, meeting with him, as well.However, despite the efforts of Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar and others, the leaders of haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism indicated that they will not budge on the matters of religion and state that are Liberman’s conditions for joining any government.Shas leader Arye Deri railed against an agreement between Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu to make far-reaching changes, such as instituting civil marriages and expanding the egalitarian section of the Western Wall.“Their agreement would destroy the status quo of 71 years,” he said. “It would be a new, secular country.”UTJ’s co-leader Moshe Gafni said “there will be a problem for the children of Israel if the status quo is broken. We don’t want a different country. We want a Jewish and democratic state.”Gafni added: “God runs the world, so in the end, there will be a Likud government.” The haredi MKs spoke at a meeting of the 55 MKs in the religious-Right bloc meant to pressure Liberman not to allow a minority government relying on the Joint List’s votes.One option for forming a government that Blue and White has entertained is a minority government that has fewer than 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. A new government must be authorized by the Knesset – by a majority of MKs present in the room – meaning 61 MKs are not necessary. Hence, a minority government could consist of Blue and White, Labor and the Democratic Union, with the Joint List voting in favor of its formation, and Yisrael Beytenu abstaining or as a member. This option is highly unlikely for several reasons, including that Blue and White has not actually held any talks with the Joint List to make it happen.“Up to this point there has not been serious negotiations with Blue and White representatives,” Joint List MK Youssef Jabareen said Monday evening, “unlike their meetings with all the other parties. If there is not a significant turnaround, it will be very difficult to establish a minority government.”Jabareen said the party has a “strong desire to depose Netanyahu the racist inciter, but we also want to see a real alternative in office.”In addition, there is strong opposition from some within Blue and White, because its MKs are anti-Zionist, regularly accuse the IDF and Israel’s leaders of war crimes, and in some cases, have ties to Palestinian terrorist organizations. Liberman holds the same position, and has long been a hardliner when it comes to Israeli Arabs, calling the Joint List a “fifth column,” and the Joint List does not want to support a government with Liberman in it. Still, Netanyahu said in the Knesset that “this is an emergency. This is a fateful moment in Israel’s history. It could be that in the next 48 hours, we will have a government that depends on terror supporters.”Netanyahu said he hoped Blue and White would stop working towards a minority government, but claimed they continue.“It’s so incomprehensible...This government will severely damage Israel’s security,” Netanyahu said, adding that Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran will be happy to be rid of him.Defense Minister Naftali Bennett wondered: “What are the differences between Gantz and Netanyahu? They’re certainly smaller than those between [former IDF chief of staff and Blue and White MK Moshe] Ya’alon and [Joint List MK Ahmed] Tibi. What is happening? Is ego that important?”Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said there cannot be “a government that depends on those - regardless of ethnic background - who have not accepted Israel to this day.” Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, Netanyahu’s top rival in Likud, also spoke, in an apparent show of unity within the party. To that end, Netanyahu and Sa’ar also had a one-on-one meeting.Sa’ar called a minority government “the worst of both worlds” in that it would not be able to tackle national security issues, and it would be a very unstable government that would likely lead to another election soon.The preferred outcome mentioned by most of the speakers was a unity government, but neither Gantz nor Netanyahu have expressed a willingness to compromise for the sake of achieving a unity government. The unresolved issues include who would be first in a rotation for prime minister, and Netanyahu’s insistence on keeping the 55-seat right-wing bloc intact.Gantz and his Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid renewed their call for Netanyahu to return to the negotiating table without his right-wing and religious partners at their faction meeting at the Knesset.Gantz said that negotiations with other parties made serious progress on key issues that ordinary citizens care about like helping the poor and the handicapped and matters of religion and state. He said he wished talks in Likud were also about substance."We asked to meet with Likud on key issues, but we soon realized we were talking to a wall and talking to a bloc," Gantz lamented. "It is time for Netanyahu to conduct real direct negotiations. Instead of inciting, let's talk."Gantz called on Netanyahu to apologize to Israeli Arabs for his criticism of them, which Gantz said crossed all red lines.“The words coming out of Netanyahu’s mouth in the past few days are incitement to violence," Lapid said. "They are words spoken by followers of [Hebron massacre murderer] Baruch Goldstein, not by a prime minister. It will end badly. He knows it will end badly. He’s been there."Lapid mocked Netanyahu for calling the possibility of him leaving the Prime Minister's Residence an Iranian victory: “The eradication of the Zionist regime”? Have you lost your mind? You’re recruiting Khamenei to your campaign? What are the people who heard you yesterday meant to think? If it’s the destruction of Zionism, what are they expected to do to prevent it?"Lapid said that if there ends up being violence against Arab citizens, it will be Netanyahu's fault. Nonetheless, he still asked him to join a unity government.Later in the Knesset’s plenum, Gantz faced off against Joint List MK Ahmed Tibi, who called on Israel to apologize for the accidental bombing of a family in Gaza last week.Gantz said that “if there’s something wrong the IDF investigates. Our enemies act in civilian areas and put civilians in danger. They are the cause of uninvolved people getting hit.”The former IDF chief of staff recounted spending “thousands of hours authorizing targets.“We make mistakes, but the purity of our intentions is clear,” he stated.