Gabbay blasts Liberman, dismisses his vow not to join a Labor-led coalition

Labor chief says defense minister is a promoter of corruption, adds that he will agree to join his government if and when the time comes

Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay heads a faction meeting at the Knesset on October 30, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay heads a faction meeting at the Knesset on October 30, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay lambasted the head of Yisrael Beytenu on Sunday evening, saying Avigdor Liberman was a promoter of government corruption, after the latter said he would not join any government coalition headed by Gabbay.

Gabbay also dismissed Liberman’s claim, saying he would join a Labor-led government if the opportunity were to arise.

“When we win 30 seats [in elections], everyone will want to be a part of our coalition,” he said.

Liberman and Kulanu chief Moshe Kahlon both told Channel 2’s “Meet the Press” Saturday that they would not support a coalition headed by Gabbay, casting doubt on the chances the leader of the Zionist Union (composed of the Labor and Hatnua parties) has of eventually becoming prime minister.

“They’re afraid, and I can understand them,” Gabbay told Channel 2. “The only thing they’ve achieved is to give the public the correct notion that the next government will be a center-left one led by myself.”

He added that “Liberman is the last person I will turn to in order to form a coalition. He promotes corruption…in everything he and his party touch.”

Liberman has faced multiple corruption allegations throughout his political career, but has never been found guilty of any crimes. Top members of his party are on trial for alleged graft offenses.

As for Kahlon, Gabbay said he was very willing to share a ruling coalition with him. He added that if Kahlon was promising not to join him, but was willing to sit under current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “anyone who votes for Kahlon is effectively voting for Netanyahu.”

Liberman had told Channel 2 that “Avi Gabbay is an irrelevant person. There are at least two parties, Yisrael Beytenu and Kulanu, that would never join a Gabbay coalition.

“He can’t have a coalition when both of those parties are not involved,” Liberman said. “He doesn’t stand a chance.”

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, left, speaks with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, November 18, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

Gabbay, who helped Kahlon found Kulanu and later served as environment minister, resigned from his post and quit the party last year in protest of the coalition deal with Yisrael Beytenu that made Liberman defense minister. He later won the leadership primary in the Labor Party.

In a separate interview with Channel 2, Kahlon said that his party would not sit in a Zionist Union-led government. Asked whether he was angry with Gabbay, Kahlon said he was “disappointed.”

“I am not angry. I am disappointed with his conduct,” he said.

Kahlon also cited his differences with the Zionist Union over the future of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a future peace deal, saying that, unlike the left-leaning party, he supports, “the Land of Israel and a unified Jerusalem” and that therefore, “Kulanu will not join a left-wing Labor government.”

“I can tell you this in the clearest way possible: Kulanu will not be a fig leaf in a left-wing government,” he said.

Despite Labor’s traditional support for evacuating West Bank settlers under a future deal with the Palestinians, Gabbay said last month he would not uproot settlements under a peace agreement, raising hackles from lawmakers from the Zionist Union.

Gabbay’s comments were part of an ongoing rightward shift in Labor that has intensified since he was elected party leader in July, as part of a bid to pick up support from centrist voters.

Gabbay also said he would not sit in a coalition with the Joint List, the 13-member Arab party.

Without the Joint List, Yisrael Beytenu and Kulanu, Gabbay would struggle to form a governing coalition, as the right-wing Likud and Jewish Home parties appear unlikely to join a Labor-led government, while Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party has placed ahead of the Zionist Union in polls and may buck at playing second fiddle.

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