Liberman presents coalition plan: No right/Orthodox bloc; Netanyahu first as PM

Amid deadlock after last month’s elections, Likud rejects Yisrael Beytenu leader’s proposal as nothing new; Blue and White is lukewarm

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 party leader Avigdor Liberman late Wednesday presented his blueprint for a unity government together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White amid an ongoing deadlock in talks following last month’s inconclusive elections.

At its core, Liberman’s plan calls for Netanyahu to give up on his bloc of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties and join a Likud / Blue and White / Yisrael Beytenu coalition, and for Gantz to allow Netanyahu to serve for the first two years of a four-year coalition as prime minister. Netanyahu would then hand over to Gantz, with Gantz taking over earlier if Netanyahu is indicted for corruption.

Likud rejected the plan; Blue and White welcomed parts of it.

Liberman — who, along with the ultra-Orthodox parties, forced the second election this year because a conflict over the ultra-Orthodox draft prevented them sitting together in a Netanyahu coalition — has long-called for a “liberal, nationalist, wide” government.

In a post on Facebook, Liberman suggested that as a first step, representatives of his Netanyahu’s and Gantz’s parties get together to hash out the guiding principles of a future unity government.

“First and foremost we have to clearly define all the issues on the agenda — security, economy, social and church and state,” he wrote.

Liberman said that should such an agreement be reached, they should then adopt President Reuven Rivlin’s proposal for a power sharing compromise.

Rivlin has suggested a unity government in which power would be equally divided and Netanyahu and Gantz would each serve two years as prime minister. Rivlin implied, but did not specify, that Netanyahu would serve first as prime minister in such a coalition, but take an open-ended leave of absence if or when he is indicted in one or more of the probes in which he faces charges. Under the arrangement set out by Rivlin, Gantz, as “interim prime minister” in such a scenario, would enjoy all prime ministerial authority.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L), President Reuven Rivlin (C) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

A third stage proposed by Liberman would see the new government pass the budget and a multi-year defense plan.

It would then, in the fourth stage, allow other parties to join the coalition if they agreed to the government’s guiding principles, Liberman said.

Liberman’s plan involves Gantz giving up on going first in the rotation, while Netanyahu would have to give up on his 55-strong bloc of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties, which Liberman again described Wednesday as a “messianist / ultra-Orthodox” alliance. In unity talks Netanyahu has been insisting that he and his Likud also represent the Orthodox-nationalist Yamina and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, and that they must all be part of any coalition — a stance that has contributed to the deadlock in negotiations with Blue and White.

Despite his legal woes — he is facing pending corruption charges in three cases — Netanyahu was tasked by Rivlin with trying to form a government based on the strength of his pact with the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties to negotiate as a bloc of 55 MKs, and was given 28 days to do so. If he fails, Gantz would likely be given the chance to try to muster a majority.

Gantz heads a bloc of 54 MKs from the center, left and Arab parties, but the 10 Arab MKs in that group would not join a Gantz-led coalition. Neither candidate has a clear path to a 61-strong Knesset majority without the other. Blue and White has offered to partner with Likud, but only if Netanyahu steps down as leader while he battles the corruption allegations.

Liberman insisted again that his party would not join a narrow right-wing or center-left government.

The Likud party immediately rejected Liberman’s proposal, saying he had “not brought anything new.”

Blue and White welcomed parts of the proposal, saying it saw both Likud and Yisrael Beytenu as prospective coalition partners, but did not endorse it; Blue and White has not backed Rivlin’s proposed arrangement.

Last week Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid announced that he was giving up his rotation deal with Gantz whereby they would share the premiership, in order to insure that he not constitute an obstacle to a unity government led by Gantz and including the Likud party.

Lapid is regarded with particular hostility by Israel’s two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, whose leaders have frequently cited the possibility of a prime minister Lapid as a core element of their opposition to a coalition partnership with Blue and White. Lapid has long battled to raise conscription levels in the ultra-Orthodox community. Gantz, who would have taken the first two years in a Gantz-Lapid government, is regarded as less hostile to ultra-Orthodox interests, but has indicated a preference for a coalition without the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Liberman praised Lapid’s decision to forgo a chance at being prime minister, calling it “an important and noble step.”

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avidgor Liberman (L) talks with Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid in the cafeteria of the Knesset on October 3, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

Liberman met last Thursday with Netanyahu, in unity talks that produced no breakthrough, and then sat for one-on-one talks in the Knesset with Lapid.

The Likud party had accused Lapid of preventing any progress in unity talks with Blue and White due to an ostensible unwillingness to give up on sharing the premiership.

Likud and Blue and White have accused each other of intransigence in the coalition talks and claimed that the other side was pushing the country toward an unprecedented third election in under a year.

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