Lapid backs Liberman’s call for Likud-Blue and White unity government

After Yisrael Beytenu chief calls for coalition without ultra-Orthodox, Blue and White No. 2 says prospective government ‘the right thing for Israel’

Yair Lapid, right, and Avigdor Liberman, lead a joint conference in Knesset on February 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Yair Lapid, right, and Avigdor Liberman, lead a joint conference in Knesset on February 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The Blue and White party’s No. 2 Yair Lapid on Sunday backed a call by Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman for a unity government led by the opposition party, and partnered with the Likud, after the September national elections.

“A unity government headed by Blue and White is the right thing for Israel,” Lapid posted on Twitter.

“We need a government that is working to fix the challenges of the country and not with the legal challenges of the prime minister,” he said, adding that he is “happy that [Avigdor] Liberman also understands this was the right thing.”

On Saturday, Liberman told Channel 13 News that after the upcoming elections he would force an “emergency” coalition with the Likud and Blue and White parties to block ultra-Orthodox parties from entering the government.

His call for an emergency government involving both parties amounts to a demand for a government without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though he did not spell this out in the interview, since Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has vowed not to join a government led by the incumbent prime minister, who is facing indictment in three criminal cases.

“We will impose a government with the Likud and Blue and White parties — it will be an emergency government, a liberal-national government. We will do everything to block the ultra-Orthodox; not to let them enter the government,” Liberman told Channel 13.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, May 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Later Saturday, in a Facebook post, he added that “the representative of the party that wins the most seats will be the candidate to form a government.”

“Netanyahu is trying to focus the campaign on who will be prime minister,” Liberman said in the TV interview. “I think the much more critical question is what kind of government it will be.”

A Likud, Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu coalition, without the ultra-Orthodox parties, Liberman added in his Facebook post later Saturday, would represent the will of “an overwhelming majority of the citizens of Israel.”

He also ruled out a coalition in which the far-right Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir would be a member.

He said he hoped his right-wing, secular Yisrael Beytenu party would win enough seats in September in order to impose such a coalition. He said he had heard ultra-Orthodox leaders saying they would refuse to sit in a government with Liberman, and he accepted this completely.

“You’ve convinced me,” he said. What was required, he said, was a government without the ultra-Orthodox.

He referred to his longtime friend Aryeh Deri, leader of the Shas ultra-Orthodox party, as “my former friend.” And he complained that while Israel was currently facing a budgetary crisis, “the only place they’re not planning to cut is [in funding for ultra-Orthodox] yeshivas.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3rd-L), Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (3rd-R) and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (2nd-L) attend a conference in Lod on November 20, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The Likud party responded to Liberman, saying: “The cat is out the bag — Liberman says explicitly that he is willing to go with Lapid and Gantz, and force the establishment of a leftist government. Anyone who wants a right-wing government must vote only for the Likud party, headed by Netanyahu.”

Gantz’s Blue and White party also issued a statement, saying: “Better late than never. If Liberman had come to this conclusion before he and his party voted for the dispersal of the Knesset, they would have avoided unnecessary elections for the people of Israel.”

The Knesset voted to disband itself and called new elections for September 17, after Netanyahu failed to broker a compromise between Yisrael Beytenu and ultra-Orthodox parties in the wake of the April 9 elections. Netanyahu was thus unable to muster a majority coalition. At the time, Liberman said he supported Netanyahu for prime minister and opposed a unity government with Blue and White. He had refused to join Netanyahu’s coalition over a bill regulating the draft of ultra-Orthodox men into the military.

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