Lapid tries to woo Liberman to the opposition, as coalition talks falter
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Lapid tries to woo Liberman to the opposition, as coalition talks falter

Blue and White deputy leader says he’d help Yisrael Beytenu pass increase to pension assistance for elderly Russians

Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid delivers a statement to the media at the Knesset, May 13, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid delivers a statement to the media at the Knesset, May 13, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Blue and White party co-chair MK Yair Lapid on Thursday made a public pitch to MK Avigdor Liberman, saying the latter will be better positioned to achieve his party’s goal of increasing the pensions of elderly Russian-speaking immigrants if he declines to join the next Netanyahu government.

Large numbers of immigrants from the former Soviet Union arrived in Israel in the 1990s at an age that prevented them from saving for a standard Israeli pension. Some left pensions behind in Russia and other countries that they were unable to draw from abroad. The net result has been that tens of thousands of elderly Israelis lack the savings and investments to support themselves.

Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, whose voters come mainly from older Russian-speaking communities in Israel, has set the passage of extra government support for the group as a top priority.

In the latest coalition talks, Liberman has demanded raising pension payments to elderly FSU immigrants to NIS 3,800 per month (approximately $1,050), or roughly 70 percent of the current minimum wage.

“If Liberman joins the government he will need to compromise on the pensions and once again the Russian public will get nothing,” Lapid tweeted on Thursday, suggesting that Liberman will be unable to include his pension hike in a coalition agreement with Likud.

“If he waits a few months he will get 55 assured votes from us to raise the pensions to the amount he has promised. Together with us we’ll have 61 votes — an excellent majority,” Lapid added.

Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 13, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

When Channel 12’s Amit Segal pointed out to Lapid that the opposition together with Liberman’s five seats only add up to 60 — or exactly half of the Knesset, Lapid responded, “Guess who my 61st vote will be” — an apparent hint that someone from the expected coalition would vote in favor of the pension raise.

Liberman has refused to join a coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until his core demands are met, including the pension hike and chairmanship of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee, the body that would oversee a pension increase.

Netanyahu, juggling the demands of several other parties, has indicated Liberman has been holding up a coalition deal.

Just under two weeks before the final deadline for Netanyahu to submit a coalition to the Knesset, talks appear to have stalled, and no agreement has been signed with any party. Without reconciling the conflicting demands of Yisrael Beytenu and the ultra-Orthodox parties over the ultra-Orthodox draft and religion-and-state issues, as well as the demands of other factions likely to join, Netanyahu will be unable to achieve a coalition of at least 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset.

A Hebrew media report on Thursday cited Likud sources as saying that Netanyahu was considering forming a non-majority government of 60 MKs.

A choir practices in a government-funded elderly care facility catering to Russian-speaking immigrants in Ashdod, southern Israel. The choir sings Russian standards and Israeli folk songs translated into Russian. (photo credit: AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
A choir practices in a government-funded elderly care facility catering to Russian-speaking immigrants in Ashdod, southern Israel, December 2012. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Likud sources believe that even if Liberman does not join the government, he would not actively vote against it and risk being blamed for forcing new elections, the report said. Instead, Yisrael Beytenu’s five MKs could abstain in any no confidence votes, leaving the coalition with a simple majority of 60 to 55, but still remain in the opposition.

Netanyahu’s Likud has previously said that the secularist, hawkish Liberman has demanded more than his fair share of control over ministries and government policies — given his party’s paltry five Knesset seats — including the defense minister post, a more secularist religion-and-state stance, and a more combative posture toward Hamas in Gaza.

If Netanyahu fails to form a coalition by May 28, the task could be assigned to a different member of the Knesset. If no member of the legislature is seen as likely to be able to form a government, the country could then face new elections just weeks after the last vote on April 9.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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