Liberman accuses Netanyahu of offering ‘dishonest’ coalition compromise

As Israel edges closer to snap polls, Yisrael Beytenu chief says PM capitulating to ‘ultra-Orthodox extremism’

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Then-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit the IDF's West Bank Division, near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, on January 10, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Then-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit the IDF's West Bank Division, near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, on January 10, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition talks remained deadlocked Tuesday ahead of a looming deadline, Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman doubled down on his refusal to budge on his key demand for joining the government, accusing the ruling party of trying to clinch a last-minute deal dishonestly.

Netanyahu has yet to ink a deal with any of his prospective partners, and progress has stalled amid an impasse between the secular Yisrael Beytenu party and ultra-Orthodox parties on the question of a bill regulating the military draft among the ultra-Orthodox.

Liberman has repeatedly said he backs Netanyahu for prime minister, but will only join the government if there is a commitment to pass, unaltered, a version of the bill that passed its first reading last July, during the previous Knesset. That version of the bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, which want to soften its terms. Netanyahu needs both Yisrael Beytenu and the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties to form a majority government.

Amid the coalition stalemate, legislators overnight Monday moved one step closer to dissolving the 21st Knesset less than a month since it was sworn in, with MKs approving in its first reading a bill to disband the legislature.

While advancing the possibility of snap elections, Netanyahu has been working feverishly to reach a deal with his would-be coalition partners, and on Monday, his party offered a unspecified compromise on the draft law.

But Liberman blasted the Likud’s offer in a Tuesday Facebook post, saying the proposed compromise was dishonest.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at a faction meeting regarding the coalition negotiations at the Knesset, on May 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He slammed Likud for praising the ultra-Orthodox parties for their “extraordinary flexibility” in accepting its compromise proposal. “This isn’t flexibility, this is dishonesty,” Liberman said in his post.

“The draft law is just one symptom of ultra-Orthodox extremism,” he added, noting the ultra-Orthodox monopoly over many religion and state issues in Israel.

As the political crisis has intensified in recent days, Likud has accused Liberman of operating out of personal spite against Netanyahu, and has launched a biting campaign against him. But Liberman has brushed off the accusations, maintaining that his refusal to join a Netanyahu-led government under the proposed terms was due to his aversion to religious coercion.

In his Tuesday statement, Liberman reiterated that implementing a universal draft law in Israel was a matter of principle, and had nothing to do with his feeling toward Netanyahu.

“Yisrael Beytenu’s only motivation is to uphold the commitments made to the public before the elections,” he said. “We aren’t looking to topple Netanyahu… but we’re also not willing to compromise our principles.”

Netanyahu has until Wednesday night to secure a coalition, and has said that barring a deal, he will pass the bill to disband the Knesset — apparently to forestall the prospect of President Reuven Rivlin tasking someone else with forming a coalition. The bill passed its first reading overnight Monday, with a target date of September 17 for new election.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset on May 27, 2019 (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

It must pass second and third readings for new elections to be called. These are likely be held by Wednesday night if no coalition agreement is reached. The Likud-drafted motion could still be pulled at any time before the final vote if a compromise to the coalition crisis is found.

On Monday evening, as lawmakers prepared the dissolution bill, Netanyahu upped the pressure on Liberman, imploring him in a live TV address to put “the good of the nation above every other interest” in order to avert “expensive, wasteful” elections.

He said the dispute over the ultra-Orthodox draft bill was a matter of “cosmetics” and “semantics” that by no means justified calling new elections. “You don’t hold elections over cosmetics,” Netanyahu said from the Knesset.

Holding another election so soon after the previous national vote, on April 9, would be unprecedented in Israel, and there have been concerns over the cost and prolonged political paralysis that would result.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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