Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman believes his Yisrael Beytenu party will be the second-largest faction in the government after elections are held early next year, he said in an interview Wednesday.
Speaking to Army Radio, Liberman said the next government will be built around two parties — Likud and Yisrael Beytenu.
“I am sure that in the next government I will continue to play a central role,” Liberman said. He declined to predict how many seats he hoped to win.
“The nationalist mandate should be maintained in the government,” Liberman said.
Yisrael Beytenu currently holds 15 seats in the Knesset, making it the third-largest party after Kadima and Likud, with 28 and 27 seats respectively.
Most polls show Kadima losing nearly all of its Knesset seats, and Likud and Yisrael Beytenu making moderate gains.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that new elections would be held “as soon as possible.” Most predictions suggest they will take place in January or February. Netanyahu is expected to win and form the next government.
Liberman dismissed Netanyahu’s comments on Tuesday night that some coalition members put narrow party interests ahead of national interests, a reference to Netanyahu’s failure to pass a new budget. Liberman also vowed to continue to campaign for government reforms after the elections.
The foreign minister refused to address the makeup of his party’s list. “That is for the press to speculate about,” he said.
Liberman said he had spoken with former prime minister Ehud Olmert and that Olmert had yet to decide if he will return to politics.
Olmert, who headed the centrist Kadima party until being forced to step down as prime minister and party leader amid a slew of corruption charges, is considered by some to be capable of presenting a challenge to Netanyahu.
But Olmert remains unpopular among Israelis. He is widely blamed for bungling the 2006 war with Hezbollah, and was convicted in July of breach of trust — becoming the first current or former Israeli prime minister to be convicted of a crime.
Olmert was given a suspended sentence and a fine, but was spared jail time. He was acquitted of more serious bribery charges. He is still on trial in a real-estate corruption case.