Liberman appears to reject PM’s latest overture for talks to join right bloc

Liberman appears to reject PM’s latest overture for talks to join right bloc

Yisrael Beytenu chief says only a broad, unity coalition can cope with security and economic challenges at hand, after PM appeals to him in last-ditch effort to avoid 3rd election

Yisrael Beytenu party chairman MK Avigdor Liberman speaks with the media, during a faction meeting in the Knesset, December 2, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu party chairman MK Avigdor Liberman speaks with the media, during a faction meeting in the Knesset, December 2, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman on Monday seemingly rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appeals to join a right-wing coalition, amid last ditch efforts to form a government and avert a dreaded third round of elections, ahead of a looming Wednesday deadline.

“Israel faces a dual challenge — security and economic — and cannot function within the constricted framework of a narrow government, which will put Israel in desperate straits,” Liberman quipped.

“It wouldn’t be possible to cope with the challenges at hand, in either security matters or the economy. The current situation requires dramatic decision-making, and broad national consensus, first and foremost, in the Knesset,” Liberman said.

Liberman made the remarks during a meeting with mayors and local council leaders from Netanyahu’s Likud party. The footage from the closed meeting was published by the Walla news site.

Earlier Monday, Netanyahu appealed to Liberman to enter 11th-hour negotiations with Netanyahu’s Likud party.

“I call on Avigdor Liberman to enter into accelerated negotiations in the 48 hours left to establish a broad, strong unity government for Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Jerusalem media conference, December 8, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman, a right-wing secularist who holds eight of the Knesset’s 120 seats, has refused to enter a coalition that does not include both Likud and Blue and White, though Likud has continued to try to woo him.

Liberman campaigned on such a unity government ahead of elections in September and has continued to push for such an arrangement amid the ongoing deadlock in coalition talks.

Lawmakers have until Wednesday night to agree to nominate a Knesset member to attempt to put together as government before being forced to dissolve the parliament and call an unprecedented third round of elections for March 2.

Neither Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party nor Likud has enough allies to form a government without the other or the support of Yisrael Beytenu party, but the two parties have failed to make progress on unity efforts.

Earlier Monday, Gantz called on Netanyahu to forgo a bid to seek immunity in the Knesset in order to enter a unity government.

“Netanyahu needs to place Israel before Netanyahu and take action. I call on the prime minister again, and repeat what I told your representatives from the first day of negotiations: if you give up on immunity, we’re partners to start talking,” Gantz said.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee discussion at the Knesset, December 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud officials shot down Gantz’s offer, saying seeking immunity was “an explicit right given by the legislature,” Channel 12 news reported.

Earlier Monday, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid said that he would give up on a rotation agreement for the premiership with Gantz, as he sought to bolster the party’s chances in the increasingly likely upcoming election.

Lapid, who headed the centrist Yesh Atid faction which joined forces with Gantz ahead of April’s election, is seen by some as a more polarizing figure than the former IDF chief Gantz, and rival party Likud had used the prospect of him as prime minister as a rallying point in campaigns.

“If there are elections, we’ve decided that this time there won’t be a rotation agreement. We will go together, all of us, a large and united Blue and White behind Benny Gantz, our candidate for prime minister,” Lapid said at the opening of a Blue and White faction meeting in the Knesset.

In a statement released by his office, Netanyahu accused Blue and White’s leaders of “transparent tricks” and “empty spins.”

Blue and White said in response to the premier’s statement: “The only thing that is transparent is Netanyahu’s desire to lead Israel to an additional round of elections with the sole purpose of seeking immunity. Netanyahu, set Israel free [from yourself].”

Both Gantz and Netanyahu have said they seek a unity deal, but observers see a third round of elections as an increasingly likely outcome. On Monday, the parties agreed that if called, the elections would be held on March 2.

Both have blamed the other for the impasse.

Netanyahu has refused to step down and insisted on being prime minister for several months at the start of a rotational agreement, but Gantz has refused to sit in a government under Netanyahu until the premier’s legal status is cleared up.

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