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'I said: No chance. I don't believe Netanyahu'

Blue and White MK: Likud twice offered me defense minister job to join coalition

Ram Ben-Barak says was also offered roles of acting PM, chief negotiator with Palestinians; Likud: Claim is ‘baseless joke’; Labor MK: Party ‘in deepest crisis in its history’

Former Mossad deputy Ram Ben-Barak at the Knesset, January 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former Mossad deputy Ram Ben-Barak at the Knesset, January 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Ram Ben-Barak of the Blue and White party said Saturday that the Likud party offered him the Defense Ministry portfolio, as well as the roles of acting prime minister (in case the premier is unable to carry out his duties) and chief negotiator with the Palestinians, during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s frantic attempts to form a coalition government this week.

“They call me and say ‘We’re talking about being defense minister,'” Ben-Barak said at an event in Kfar Saba, citing an unnamed senior Likud official.

Ben Barak said he rejected the offer outright, telling the official: “‘I don’t believe Netanyahu and I’m not even sure I believe Netanyahu knows about it, and even if I knew he’d sent you personally, I still wouldn’t believe him… and these aren’t my values, there’s nothing to discuss.’

“Forty minutes later, another phone call: ‘Defense minister and acting prime minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians after the ‘deal of the century,'” Ben-Barak said, referring to US President Donald Trump’s planned peace proposal.

“I said ‘No chance,'” he recounted. “As far as I’m concerned, Netanyahu is corrupt and has caused national division, and there is no way I will sit in a government which only causes people to hate one another.”

Ben-Barak served for five years in the Israel Defense Forces’s famed Sayeret Matkal special forces unit. He then joined the Mossad, where he worked for 27 years, including as the agency’s deputy director between 2009 and 2011. He later served in several key posts, including as director-general of the Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Ministry.

The Likud party responded to Ben-Barak’s claim, saying it was a “baseless joke.”

Channel 13 news reported on Wednesday that members of the Blue and White party who were thought to be potential deserters were offered portfolios including defense, finance, justice, culture and communications. Some were offered future appointments as ambassadors to either join the coalition or support it from the outside.

Druze MK Gadeer Mreeh was said to be offered possible changes to the controversial Jewish nation-state law, which has angered much of the Druze community. Meanwhile MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, of Ethiopian descent, was promised further action to bring Ethiopian Falash Mura — whose claim to Judaism the government does not recognize — to Israel.

Blue and White candidate Gadeer Mreeh (C) and party head Benny Gantz (R) attend a meeting with members of the Druze community of Israel in the city of Daliyat al-Karmel in northern Israel on March 7, 2019. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Netanyahu met secretly with Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem overnight Tuesday-Wednesday in an ultimately fruitless attempt by Netanyahu to bring Labor, or at least some of its six MKs, into his prospective coalition and thus give him a majority amid what proved to be the terminal breakdown in his negotiations with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party.

In a bid to overcome what they knew would be near-unshakeable opposition in Labor to sitting with Netanyahu and the other far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties in the prospective coalition, Netanyahu and Gabbay tried to craft tailor-made portfolios that top Labor MK’s would find hard to resist, Channel 12 news reported Friday.

Avi Gabbay, leader of the Labor Party (C), with Labor party parliament members (R-L) Amir Peretz, Stav Shaffir, Itzik Shmuli and Shelly Yachimovich at a party meeting in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Netanyahu-Gabbay deal ultimately failed, however, after news of the talks surfaced and Labor MKs Shelley Yachimovich, Amir Peretz, Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir swiftly rejected sitting with Netanyahu and furiously condemned Gabbay, who led Labor to its historic low of six seats in April’s elections, for having considered any such alliance with the reviled prime minister.

Shmuli said Saturday that the party was now in a deep crisis and must elect new leadership before a merge with any other party could be considered, referring to the idea of a union with either the Meretz party or Blue and White, an idea raised by officials, including Gabbay, in recent days.

“Labor is in the deepest crisis in its history, and the first step is holding elections for its leadership,” Shmuli said. “Regarding a merger — it is still too early to determine. Maybe it will happen later, but it must be examined from a position of strength, not weakness.”

Labor No. 2 Tal Russo also said Saturday that there was a possibility the party could merge with another faction.

“We are building the entire process of the party. Maybe we will be united with another party — I am not ruling out anything at the moment,” he said.

“There is a great danger that the right will strengthen and in three months [at the elections] we will have parties [elected] that we thought had disappeared off the [political] map,” he warned.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference with his party colleagues following the dissolving of the Knesset, and ahead of the new elections, in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2019. (Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker Eli Avidar said Saturday that he believed the prime minister never had any intention of allowing his party to join the coalition.

“We knew from the first moment that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not want us in the government,” he said.

“What will happen in the elections? Netanyahu will attack us and we will get stronger. We are not afraid of him — he does not scare us with his threats,” he said.

Netanyahu failed to persuade Yisrael Beytenu to join the coalition, and instead had to resort to initiating snap elections, now slated for September 17.

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