Liberman’s ultimatum

Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Liberman laid out his ‘ultimatums’ to the heads of the two main parties – Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz – in an interview with Channel 12.

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)
It’s only fitting that the Israeli politician most responsible for the two elections held this year and the third that seems on the way is the same person who is offering a solution to the political deadlock Israel is currently in.
Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Liberman laid out his ‘ultimatums’ to the heads of the two main parties – the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz – in a weekend TV interview with Channel 12.
Insisting that a unity government is the only possible outcome that will stop a third election and prevent the country from further turmoil, Liberman demanded that both Netanyahu and Gantz move toward one other. Specifically, said Liberman, Gantz “has to accept the president’s outline, and Netanyahu has to give up on his bloc.”
“If someone does not make the right decision, we in Yisrael Beytenu will draw conclusions. If someone does not make the right decision, we will support the other side,” he added, throwing down the gauntlet to both Netanyahu and Gantz.
It’s worthwhile to take a further look at these two demands. The “president’s outline” is President Reuven Rivlin’s plan for a rotation for the premiership that would allow Netanyahu to take a leave of absence once he gets indicted or his trial begins but still retain the title and benefits of being a prime minister.
Gantz would serve as acting prime minister but Netanyahu would, for example, not need to leave the official residence in Jerusalem since he would still hold the title. It would enable Netanyahu and Gantz to coexist and allow the Blue and White leader to keep face with his constituents whom he promised during the two election campaigns that he would not join a coalition with someone under suspicion of indictment.
Liberman’s other condition puts the ball in Netanyahu’s court. The prime minister has been bullish about not forgoing his 55-seat bloc of religious and right-wing parties, including Shas, United Torah Judaism and parts of Bayit Yehudi – an entity Liberman has coined the “haredi-messianic” bloc.
Keeping the bloc intact is preventing the formation of a coalition government. Blue and White has demanded that Likud first negotiate the outline of the new government with it and only then add additional parties.
But it also give Netanyahu a security blanket as he struggles to stay in power ahead of his expected indictment. To shore up even more support, over the weekend, he appointed New Right leader Naftali Bennett as defense minister in the interim government, and added New Right to the Likud’s faction, giving them a majority over Blue and White.
As Lahav Harkov pointed out in the Post, if Netanyahu acquiesces to Liberman and gives up on his right-wing bloc, his only option to remain in power is a unity government. On the other hand, if Netanyahu stays with the bloc, and Liberman makes good on his threat to support Blue and White, it means he would be supporting a minority government with the backing of the Joint List of Arab parties.
Liberman’s ultimatum didn’t seem to sit too well with either Netanyahu nor Gantz, as both pushed back on Sunday. Netanyahu accused Liberman of working with Blue and White and the Joint List to establish a minority government.
“I hope it’s not so, but it looks like Liberman is coordinating with the Joint List and Blue and White on all the details,” Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting.
Meanwhile, Gantz, at the Knesset’s memorial ceremony for former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, continued to indicate that sitting in a government with Netanyahu is not something he is willing to do.
“On a moral and ethical level, and on a practical level, you cannot lead a government if and when an indictment is submitted against you,” Gantz said to Netanyahu.
Whether Netanyahu and Gantz will take Liberman’s ultimatum to heart remains to be seen. But, as the specter of a third election looms with Gantz’s mandate to form a coalition running out of time next week, the Yisrael Beytenu leader’s plan seems to be the logical and plausible route to take to get the government and country back on track.