Likud-Beytenu’s number two, former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, on Thursday criticized the alliance between the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid factions but remained optimistic that negotiations would eventually produce a government.
“They are trying to make a government within a government,” Liberman carped, referring to the two parties’ close working relationship, in an interview with Israel Radio. “It is the first time I have seen parties negotiating between themselves over who will take which portfolio.”
Liberman questioned the alignment between the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties, who have tied their fates to each other and said they will join either the government or the opposition together. Liberman said it was unprecedented for two parties to negotiate between themselves rather than directly with the party charged with forming a coalition.
“These are two people who are new to the political scene,” he continued, referring to Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, the leaders of Yesh Atid and Jewish Home respectively. “It is either an attempt to change the rules of the game or a lack of experience.”
Given the choice between the two options, Liberman admitted that he sees Yesh Atid, which won 19 seats in the elections, as closest to his own party’s stance, but added that the national religious Jewish Home, with 12 seats, was also very compatible. Both parties, he said, are closer to his own ideology than the ultra-Orthodox parties, he said, but added that no party should be barred from joining the coalition. In addition to the ultra-Orthodox parties, Liberman said that two-seat Kadima will also join the government and that he doesn’t rule out even Labor joining.
Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich has repeatedly said that that she won’t join a Likud-led government but she is facing pressure from within her own party to sign on with the coalition.
Liberman, who on Sunday made his first, very brief, court appearance at the start of a trial in which he faces charges of fraud and breach of trust, maintained that most parties are interested in forming a government rather then staying out of it.
“Most MKs want to be in the coalition including Labor, Yesh Atid, and Jewish Home,” he asserted. “If I had to gamble on it then I think it will all sort out.”
Although in the past Liberman has indicated his intention to return to his former position as foreign minister, he said that the bottom line is that his party will take one of the three top portfolios, Defense, Finance, or Foreign Affairs. The foreign affairs position is reportedly being kept open for him by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as part of their deal to run a joint list for the January elections.
As for Tzipi Livni’s appointment as head of negotiations with the Palestinians, a position she secured as part of her own Hatnua party’s coalition agreement, Liberman said that peace talks are more of an internal, local affair, rather than the responsibility of the Foreign Ministry.
As to his own future, Liberman said he hoped his trial would be over and done with by July, enabling his full return to political activity. He has denied the charges.
The charges stem from an incident in which Liberman allegedly received classified Justice Ministry documents from former ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben Aryeh. The documents related to an investigation, later closed, into fraud and money-laundering allegations against him.
Under Israeli law, a politician can be forced from public service for years if his or her conviction carries a designation of “moral turpitude” plus a jail or community service sentence.
Liberman has stated that, if convicted, even without moral turpitude and a jail sentence, he would quit politics entirely.