Ra'am's Abbas hits back at Sa'ar: I care about our future

Amid coalition crisis, Liberman says he won’t sit with Netanyahu in any government

Finance minister also blasts rest of former PM’s opposition bloc as unacceptable partners, as the ruling coalition teeters

Finance Minister and Israel Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Finance Minister and Israel Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, the head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, said on Thursday that he will not sit with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in any future government, as the teetering coalition struggles to muster a majority for a key piece of legislation in its latest crisis and appears to be inching closer to a collapse.

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s no chance I will sit with Netanyahu in any constellation, not as prime minister and not as a government partner,” Liberman said in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster.

Liberman also said Netanyahu’s political allies in the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, and the far-right lawmakers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, were “out of the question” as potential partners.

Liberman started his political career under Netanyahu’s wing, but has been a bitter enemy of the former premier for years and has refused to join him in a coalition after elections in the past.

The coalition has been on the brink since lawmaker Idit Silman quit in early April, stripping the government of its majority. Reports this week have indicated the coalition lacks the votes to renew the extension of civil and criminal law to Israelis living in the West Bank, in the latest test of the fragile government.

A poll last week said the opposition led by Netanyahu is gaining ground with voters, and getting closer to being able to secure a majority in the Knesset.

Reports also claimed Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party was in talks with Netanyahu’s Likud about forming a government. Sa’ar on Wednesday dismissed those reports as “fake news.”

Sa’ar is spearheading the bill to renew an emergency measure extending Israeli criminal law and certain key civil laws — such as income tax and health insurance — to Israelis living in the West Bank.

Though Israel has not annexed the West Bank, the measure ensures that settlers living there are treated as though they live in Israel in most matters, without extending those same legal arrangements to Palestinians. Originally enacted in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, the law remains an “emergency measure” that must be renewed every five years. Last passed in 2017, it is set to expire at the end of June.

Sa’ar warned earlier this week that the government’s future could depend on the passage of the technical but controversial bill.

The coalition’s Islamist Ra’am party appears to be the government’s only holdout against the bill. While the Kan public broadcaster reported that Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas would back it, it was not clear whether the rest of the party would get behind him. Even if it does, that would only amount to 60 votes for the coalition— not enough to pass the legislation if all opposition MKs vote against it.

While the Likud-led right-religious bloc within the opposition supports the renewal in principle, it has vowed not to vote with the coalition in order to pass it, having pledged to oppose any government-sponsored legislation regardless of content in its bid to bring down the government.

Ra’am party leader MK Mansour Abbas speaks during a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, May 17, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Liberman praised Abbas during the Thursday interview.

“He says out loud, ‘I’m part of this place and I want to be a part of society.’ This is great, from my point of view,” Liberman said of the Ra’am leader.

Liberman also attacked the Arab majority Joint List faction, which is in the opposition but not aligned with Netanyahu’s bloc.

“They don’t want to be Israelis, and don’t want to be citizens of Israel,” Liberman said.

On Wednesday, Sa’ar indirectly hit out at Ra’am over the West Bank legislation, saying, “if all coalition members do not vote in support of extending the emergency regulations, then they’re not interested in keeping the government in existence.”

Abbas responded on Thursday in an interview with the Arabic-language Radio Nas.

“Ra’am opposes any law that perpetuates the occupation. At the same time, we are holding discussions regarding the vote for renewing the regulations next week,” Abbas said.

“I could have dismantled the coalition a long time ago and come out as a national hero for Palestinians, but I’m a responsible leader who cares about the future of the Arab community and Israeli society as a whole,” Abbas said.

A Channel 12 survey last week found that Netanyahu’s bloc would win 59 seats if elections were held today, putting it near a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, but suggesting further political deadlock if the government collapses. Israel has been through four grueling elections since 2019 as the opposing blocs struggle to form a sturdy majority in the Knesset.

The survey also found that most Israelis think the current government will collapse within six months, and that more Israelis support Netanyahu for prime minister than any other candidate.

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