While not denying that he harbors ambitions to be prime minister one day, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said Friday that he would “do everything” he could to ensure that Benjamin Netanyahu both wins the elections in January and serves the full four year and nine month term as prime minster.
The foreign minister dismissed reports that the alliance he and Netanyahu announced on Thursday — under which Netanyahu’s Likud and his Yisrael Beytenu will form a joint Knesset list to contest the elections — also provides for a “rotation” under which he would take over as prime minister in year four.
“That is in no way true,” he told Channel 2 news. “I support the prime minister for a full term — four years and nine months. I’ve given my word. There’s no need to say it twice.”
Asked whether he wanted to be prime minister, Liberman replied: “At the end of the day, every politician wants to stand at the head of the system. But I don’t have an obsession, I’m not obsessive. I try to do what I can in the best way possible. At the end of the day, we’ll wait and see.”
Liberman said the partnership agreement allowed him his pick of cabinet posts, and that he was inclined to remain as foreign minister.
On Channel 10, he added: “We’re not talking about a succession.”
He denied that Israel’s international standing had declined during his almost four years in the post, saying, rather, that it had “improved dramatically.” As proof, he cited recent pro-Israel votes at UNESCO, the recent appointments of new ambassadors from Egypt and Jordan, and legislation in the European Parliament “which opens the market to the entire [Israeli] pharmaceutical, chemical and biological industry.”
He told Channel 2: “I think that if we stick to the facts, then there is no doubt that Israel has made progress. Furthermore, without a doubt, the European Union’s decision to implement sanctions against Iran would not have been taken without the heavy pressure and diplomatic efforts Israel made.”
He said the alliance with the Likud had overwhelming support among members of both parties, although “there will always be those who are dissatisfied.” He would not specify how many seats he expected the joint list to win. “We are not concerned with accounting,” he said. “The goal is to get the point across that we need stability, need a return to the big-party game.”
He said he was in contact with conservative political adviser Arthur J Finkelstein, but denied the new alliance was hatched with the American expert’s blessing. “He is busy with the US elections,” he said of Finkelstein.
Liberman said serious discussion of the alliance began a year ago, and therefore could not be seen as a response to the entry to politics of would-be centrist leader Yair Lapid, or the possible return to politics of former prime minister Ehud Olmert. The fact that the discussions did not leak, he said, was “a testament to the trust” between him and Netanyahu, and their ability “to run things properly.”
The final decision on the joint list was taken two weeks ago, he said.
He said his party and the Likud shared a similar nationalist outlook, and he denied that he was anti-Orthodox and sought a separation of religion and state. What he actually sought, he said in the Channel 10 interview, was “a separation between Judaism and political extortion.”
At a press conference earlier Friday, the Soviet-born Liberman spoke of “reestablishing the broad and historic national camp that led the country for many years.”
The foreign minister touted the efficacy of a coalition comprised of larger factions: “Everyone understands that it’s easier and more proper to run a country with large parties, rather than with splinter parties whose lifespan equals one term [in office].
“Whoever votes for such splinter parties, which are devoid of ideology, understands that he’s throwing his vote into the trash bin of history,” Liberman added. He stressed that Israel must transition to a system of large parties, possibly four or five of them “to ensure governability and stability.”
The foreign minister said his party would have to compromise in an effort to achieve a common platform with Likud.
Thursday’s Likud-Yisrael Beytenu alliance has prompted new calls for center-left parties such as Kadima, Labor and Yesh Atid to run together as well, though Yesh Atid leader Lapid ruled himself out of such an alliance.