'It's pretty much locked in. There won't be 4th elections'

Kingmaker Liberman says coalition almost a done deal, but unclear what changed

Yisrael Beytenu leader says Zionist parties will form next government, indicating his unsuccessful unity push is intact, and predicts Naftali Bennett’s Yamina won’t enter Knesset

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a culture event in Glilot, on December 20, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a culture event in Glilot, on December 20, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman on Thursday claimed the makeup of the next coalition after the March elections is all but determined, while predicting that Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party will fail to clear the electoral threshold.

“I want to form a coalition [composed] of all the Zionist parties, I think that’s obvious to all,” Liberman told the Ynet news site. Asked whether this referred to the unity government he touted following the September election, made up of Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu, the right-wing party leader demurred: “It’s not unity, I’m saying all the Zionist parties. I think it’s pretty much closed and locked in. I don’t want to get into details. But I’m telling you there won’t be fourth elections.”

“These elections will end with a government,” he added.

Liberman’s eight-seat Yisrael Beytenu party was would-be kingmaker following the April and September elections, which both failed to yield a government, prompting the March national vote.

Last May, he refused to join a Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu-led government over disagreements on the ultra-Orthodox military draft law. Following the September vote, he said he would only join a coalition of Likud and Blue and White, but the two parties failed to reach an agreement. Blue and White rejected allying with a Likud led by Netanyahu due to the criminal charges against him and the prime minister also complicated talks by insisting on negotiating on behalf of all of his right-wing and religious allies.

It was unclear what electoral math Liberman was using in his prediction, given that his reference to the “Zionist parties” appeared to exclude Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies, whom he has branded “anti-Zionist,” and the predominantly Arab Joint List.

Liberman on Thursday also attacked the right-wing Yamina party and left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, signaling they were both unwelcome partners in a future coalition.

If current projections remain, a government of the remaining parties would only be possible if Likud and Blue and White somehow overcame their differences, suggesting Liberman’s position on a unity government was unchanged.

Yamina lawmakers Naftali Bennett (L) and Rafi Peretz at the Knesset on October 29, 2019. (Flash90)

“My prediction is that Yamina doesn’t clear the electoral threshold,” opined Liberman.

The party garnered seven seats in September’s vote. Analysts believe it will receive a similar amount in March.

But Liberman claimed that last-minute horsetrading that led to party leaders breaking promises in order to form the alliance would drive religious right-wing voters into his secularist camp.

“The education minister [Rafi Peretz, who heads Jewish Home], in a single week violated two agreements, the first with [National Union’s Betzalel] Smotrich and the second with [far-right Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar] Ben Gvir,” said Liberman, referring to the eleventh-hour decision by Peretz to walk back his merger with Otzma Yehudit and rejoin Yamina.

“The national religious community is very intelligent. When they see this sort of thing, I don’t see a single reasonable person who will vote [for them],” he said.

Liberman also directed criticism for Labor chief Amir Peretz, who has merged with the left-wing Meretz.

Heads of Labor-Gesher-Meretz Nitzan Horowitz (L) Amir Peretz (C) Orly Levy-Abecasis at the entrance to the Central Elections Committee in the Knesset, January 15, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Peretz “has definitively destroyed the Labor Party,” said Liberman. “His alliance with the radical extremist left, Nitzan Horowitz and Tamar Zandberg, contradicts everything the founding fathers of the Labor movement [believed in].”

Despite the attacks, some analysts believe the Labor-Gesher-Meretz merger will make the party more palatable to Liberman’s right-wing base as it subsumes Meretz into a more centrist configuration.

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