Barak warns ‘opposite of liberal’ kingmaker Liberman angling to crown himself PM

Ahead of parties’ consultations with Rivlin on picking next potential prime minister, former premier charges ‘opportunist’ Liberman is looking to take advantage of the chaos

Then-defense minister Ehud Barak, left, and then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, right, arrive at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, November 13,  2011. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Then-defense minister Ehud Barak, left, and then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, right, arrive at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, November 13, 2011. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Ahead of recommendations to the president about about who should potentially lead the next government, former prime minister Ehud Barak, who ran unsuccessfully with the Democratic Camp party, on Sunday slammed likely coalition kingmaker Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman as “the opposite of a liberal” and accused him of playing the political field to obtain the premiership for himself. (Barak was in 10th slot on the Democratic Party list, and it won only five seats.)

Liberman’s secularist, largely Russian-speaking party won eight seats in the September 17 election, far fewer than Blue and White’s 33 or Likud’s 31. But neither of the larger parties has a clear path to a majority coalition, sparking speculation they will be forced into a unity coalition, and a frenetic round of jostling by smaller parties hoping to make the cut into the next government.

Liberman, for his part, premised his election campaign on the promise to “force” the two large parties to join in a “secular unity government” sans the ultra-Orthodox factions. Liberman also said during the campaign he would back the larger party, and not lean automatically toward his longtime coalition partner Likud. But following the election, he seemed to backtrack from supporting either party.

“There is no sign now that he is prepared to carry out his original commitment to recommend the larger party — nor his intention, which he announced [ahead of the election] to force Likud to replace Netanyahu,” Barak charged.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at the Democratic Camp electoral alliance’s campaign launch in Tel Aviv on August 12, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“Liberman’s stuttering over recommending Gantz should raise serious suspicions that he’s not really pushing for a broad unity government led by Gantz without Netanyahu. He seems to want both to fail, a failure that by law will enable any MK who can muster 61 supporters [in parliament] to demand a chance at forming a government.”

Barak continued: “His assessment seems to be that the fear of a third election [within a year] in early 2020 will drive the Knesset to choose the lesser evil: a government led by him.”

Barak warned that such a government was “a bad option,” accusing Liberman of being “an opportunist, a cynic surrounded on all sides by corruption. His word has never been his word. Ask [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniyeh [whom Liberman vowed to assassinate], the Aswan Dam [he once suggested could be bombed] or look at what’s happening today. His achievements in the foreign and defense ministries have yet to be found.”

Barak warned against the “new excitement on the center-left” over Liberman’s demand for a secular government, which was “nothing more than a sweet summer fantasy, which will sour or evaporate by the fall. He’s no liberal, never was and never will be. The opposite.

“His only positive contribution could be to enable, through his recommendation of Gantz, the formation of a narrow and short-lived government without Likud. Such a government would lead immediately to the end of Netanyahu’s candidacy. That in turn would allow the government’s expansion [to include Likud], but led by Gantz and with Liberman as a member, not as its head.”

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman tours the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv on election day, September 17, 2019 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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 both Likud and Blue and White, and his support for Gantz, if forthcoming, could hold extra weight with Rivlin as he holds consultations with party leaders beginning Sunday about whom to task with forming a government.

Montage: Head of Blue and White, Benny Gantz, left; and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Photos: Flash90)

Liberman’s support could give Gantz the numbers to form a minority government comprising Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Camp, with majority support in the Knesset based on the tacit backing, from outside the coalition, of the Joint List, which is also considering backing Gantz to the president. But Liberman might not be prepared to join a coalition on that basis.

Yisrael Beytenu will convene on Sunday for a faction meeting to decide on its next moves.

With almost all votes counted, the Orthodox/right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu has 55 seats, the centrist/left bloc led by Gantz has 44, and Yisrael Beytenu holds eight. The predominantly Arab Joint List, which has not yet said whether it will actively back Gantz, has 13 seats.

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