Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called upon Avigdor Liberman to add his six-seat Yisrael Beytenu party to the razor-thin governing coalition.
“Leave Zoabi and join the government,” he said at the weekly cabinet meeting, alluding to Joint List MK Hanin Zoabi, a constant target of derision from Liberman. The prime minister said Liberman signaled willingness to ally himself with the government.
Liberman’s ultra-nationalist party is the only right-wing faction in the opposition, which is led by the Zionist Union and includes the Joint List. Netanyahu commands a 61-member coalition in the 120-seat Knesset, meaning the departure of any members could compromise his wafer-thin majority. After years of his majority government winning votes in the parliament, the past year has seen some embarrassing losses to the opposition, sometimes caused by just a couple of absent lawmakers.
Liberman and Netanyahu ran on the same list in the 2013 elections, but had a public falling out in 2014 over the prime minister’s handling of the war in Gaza.
The prime minister voiced optimism in Sunday’s meeting that he and Liberman could reach a deal to bring Yisrael Beytenu into the government.
But members of both Likud and Yisrael Beytenu dismissed the report as “spin.” Liberman dismissed Netanyahu’s call in a Facebook post, saying Netanyahu was courting the Zionist Union, and if he were to get a serious offer he’d consider it.
“It’s not surprising that Netanyahu’s government isn’t a right-wing government,” he wrote. “It doesn’t fight terrorism, but contains it,” he charged, accusing the government of viewing Palestinian stabbing attacks as inevitable. The government “tells the citizens of Israel that it’s a divine edict; it doesn’t build in Jerusalem or settlement blocs in the West Bank, returns the bodies of terrorists — in short, any connection between it and the nationalist camp is incidental.”
Netanyahu’s call comes amid reports of continuing talks between Netanyahu and Labor head Herzog to join the government. Herzog has so far rejected Netanyahu’s advances, but has left the door open for joining the government, angering some in his party.