Two of Yisrael Beytenu’s eight lawmakers were reportedly pushing party leader Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday to join to a narrow right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the event coalition talks fail to yield a unity government.
According to a Channel 12 news report, MKs Oded Forer and Hamad Amar implored Liberman to considering joining a right-wing government should all other options fail. Such a scenario would see Yisrael Beytenu partner in a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties, which Liberman has promised not to do since Israel’s first round of inconclusive elections in April.
Liberman campaigned on a unity government of his party, Likud, and Blue and White ahead of elections in September and has continued to push for such an arrangement amid the ongoing deadlock in coalition talks.
The TV report said Amar and Forer argued that Blue and White was being unreasonable in its demands.
“Blue and White and Yair Lapid need to know that if they continue to refuse unity then the alternative will be a narrow right-wing government in order to prevent elections,” one of them was quoted saying.
The final decision, the report stressed, will be entirely Liberman’s.
Liberman later appeared to confirm the report, saying he understood the lawmakers in his party “rebelling” against Blue and White’s handling of coalition negotiations.
“It’s hard to say which is worse — early elections or a narrow government,” he told the Knesset Channel. “But I understand the MKs in the faction who are rebelling against the conduct of Blue and White.”
Liberman has previously served in numerous Netanyahu-led governments, but broke with his erstwhile partner after April’s elections, insisting he would only join a prospective government headed by the premier if legislation to boost ultra-Orthodox military enlistment was passed without changes. That demand was rejected by Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies.
Also Tuesday, Netanyahu was set to meet with Blue and White chief Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv for coalition talks, eight days before the final deadline for the Knesset to tap a candidate to form a government.
Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz has so far been able to form a government, even though both have publicly said they want to avoid a third vote.
On Monday, Liberman appeared to backtrack on his previous suggestion that he could endorse both of them as candidates to form a government as part of an eleventh-hour bid to force a unity government.
Liberman said the offer only stood if there was a genuine will to form a government merging Likud and Blue and White, and threatened that otherwise he wouldn’t back either politician.
The Knesset legal adviser had previously said lawmakers could back more than one prime ministerial candidate, but on Sunday clarified that MKs would be asked to whittle down their choice to one candidate in the event of more than one lawmaker receiving 61 signatures of support for the post.
Liberman said last week that had Netanyahu been willing to compromise on religion and state issues, he would have joined a right-wing government alongside the religious parties. On Sunday, he issued a list of what he said were his “minimum” demands from religious parties in order to serve with them in a coalition.
Netanyahu has accused Liberman of not really wanting a unity government, secretly working for a minority government backed by the predominantly Arab Joint List, and seeking the role of prime minister for himself. Those claims have been strongly rejected by Yisrael Beytenu.
Speaking at his own Blue and White faction meeting, Gantz reiterated that he was prepared to enter a unity government, but only if he serves as prime minister first. The centrist alliance has ruled out joining a government led by Netanyahu, who faces criminal charges.