Liberman says Netanyahu, Gantz should ‘flip a coin’ for who serves first as PM

Yisrael Beytenu leader, whose party is not recommending either candidate, to meet Gantz on Monday; says ‘childish argument’ over who’ll start out as premier is preventing coalition

Photo composition (L to R): Blue and White chief Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Yonatan Sindel, Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Photo composition (L to R): Blue and White chief Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Yonatan Sindel, Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman will meet with Benny Gantz on Monday, a day after he refrained from endorsing either the Blue and White leader or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the premiership.

The two will meet in Tel Aviv on Monday afternoon, Liberman said Sunday evening, several hours after his party’s consultation with President Reuven Rivlin, noting that Gantz had called the meeting.

In a statement, the Yisrael Beytenu leader casually suggested Gantz and Netanyahu “flip a coin” on who gets to be prime minister first under a rotation deal, urging them to drop their “childish” dispute and forge a national unity government.

According to all-but-final election results, Liberman holds the key to forming the next government following a political deadlock between Likud and Blue and White. Liberman has vowed to push for a “liberal, nationalist, broad” unity government made up of the two largest parties. Liberman also said during the campaign that he would back the larger party, and not lean automatically toward his longtime coalition partner Likud.

But on Sunday, his party refrained from backing Gantz, citing the Joint List’s support for the Blue and White leader. “The Joint List are our enemies,” said Liberman. “Wherever they are, we will be on the other side.”

In Tuesday’s election Gantz’s Blue and White emerged as the larger party according to almost-final results, at 33 seats, while incumbent premier Netanyahu’s Likud won 31. Netanyahu heads a right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc of 55 MKs. Gantz heads a bloc of 44 centrist and left-wing MKs. With the Joint List, the Blue and White leader has the support of at least 57 members of Knesset, but the Arab alliance has said it will not join a coalition. Yisrael Beytenu, with eight seats, holds the balance of power between the blocs.

President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, shake hands at the memorial ceremony for the late president Shimon Peres, at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, on September 19, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu last week first forged a formal alliance with his right-wing and ultra-Orthodox allies and then urged Gantz to form a national unity government under his leadership. The Blue and White leader rebuffed the offer, noting his party received more seats and should therefore lead such a coalition. Gantz has insisted that Netanyahu, who is facing a looming criminal indictment, relinquish the premiership as a condition for a Blue and White-Likud alliance.

Liberman, in a Facebook post Sunday evening, maintained that a broad unity government was within reach — if Netanyahu and Gantz drop their “childish” disagreement.

“As we promised the public, Yisrael Beytenu will do everything to force the two largest parties to form a broad liberal government,” he wrote. “What stands between the formation of a government and new elections is a childish argument between Netanyahu and Gantz over who will be prime minister first.

“I hope the president will take the initiative and mediate between the two. For all I care, they could flip a coin over who goes first [as prime minister under a rotation deal],” he said.

Rivlin will decide which candidate to task with assembling the next coalition by next week after wrapping up his meetings with party leaders on Monday night.

Last Tuesday’s election was called after a previous round of elections in April did not result in a government. The Knesset was dissolved in late May and a new vote called after Liberman conditioned his entry into Netanyahu’s government on the advancement of a law regulating the military draft for ultra-Orthodox students — a demand rejected by the Haredi political parties.

His refusal to enter the coalition, precipitating new elections, drew a furious response from his ally-turned-foe Netanyahu.

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