Liberman appears to rule out minority government: ‘Unity only option’

Yisrael Beytenu head makes comments as Likud, Blue and White teams meet amid coalition deadlock; calls Joint List ‘a fifth column’ ahead of Gantz meeting with Odeh

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at the party headquarters in Jerusalem on election night, September 17, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at the party headquarters in Jerusalem on election night, September 17, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman on Thursday seemed to rule out support for a minority government backed by Israel’s Arab-led factions, declaring that a unity coalition was the only possibility.

“We have said that there is one option — a unity government. I’m not going to address the issue of a minority government,” Liberman told the Kan public broadcaster.

Liberman, who as head of a party that holds eight Knesset seats is seen to play a critical role in the formation of any government, has insisted that he will not join a coalition that includes the Joint List, the left-wing Democratic Camp or any of the religious parties. But he had been mum on the possibility of joining or backing a minority government that is merely backed by outside support from the Joint List or others.

Speaking on Thursday, the outspoken Liberman declared the Joint List alliance of four predominantly Arab parties to be a “fifth column” that does not represent Israel’s Arab community.

His comments came ahead of a meeting Thursday between Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Joint List leader Ayman Odeh.

Leader of the Joint list MK Ayman Odeh arrives for a meeting with party members at the Knesset on September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz was tasked last week with forming a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to do so following elections last month. Talks on assembling a unity government have failed to yield progress as the two largest parties remain divided on a number of matters.

Representatives of Blue and White and Likud were meeting for a second time Thursday morning to try to break the impasse, Gantz’s party said.

Ahead of the meeting, Likud representative Minister Yariv Levin described the talks as “possibly fake negotiations for the cameras,” charging that Blue and White would only be holding real talks with the Joint List.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (3rd from left) and party No.2 Yair Lapid (2nd from left) join coalition talks with Likud,’s Yariv Levin (far right) and Zeev Elkin (2nd right) Kfar Maccabiah, October 31, 2019 (Courtesy)

Netanyahu’s Likud has accused Blue and White of seeking to form a minority government with outside support from the Joint List. Blue and White has never expressed interest in such a scenario and a number of the party’s MKs have ruled it out entirely.

Officials from both Likud and Blue and White reportedly warned Wednesday that Israel was on its way to a third national election in under a year, saying the chances of forming a unity government were increasingly slim.

A Blue and White official told Channel 12 on Wednesday that developments over the past week were making a unity government more difficult to achieve.

“Likud, which is sunk in witness harassment and demonstrations in Petah Tikva, isn’t making it possible for us to get to a unity government,” the unnamed official was quoted saying.

The official was referring to an investigation of Netanyahu’s top political aides for suspected harassment of a state’s witness in a corruption case in which the premier faces criminal charges, as well as protests near Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in support of the prime minister.

A Likud official, however, laid the blame for the political impasse on Blue and White. “The continuation of the negotiations is a waste of time,” the Likud official told Channel 12.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with heads of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties in Jerusalem, October 23, 2019 (Likud)

Obstacles in coalition talks include Blue and White ruling out joining a Netanyahu-led government over the premier’s legal woes, and Likud’s insistence on negotiating jointly with its religious allies, who agreed after the September 17 elections to enter a government as a group or not at all.

Members of the so-called right-wing bloc, which includes Likud, two ultra-Orthodox parties and a pair of national-religious factions, told the Kan public broadcaster on Wednesday that Israel was on its way to third elections.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, on October 27, 2019. (Elad Malka)

Despite these negative assessments, Gantz struck an optimistic tone about the potential for a breakthrough in negotiations Wednesday.

“I cannot go into extensive detail about what came up during my talks with faction leaders, including those who comprise part” of the right-wing bloc, Gantz wrote on Facebook. “I can only tell you that the picture being portrayed by the media is not necessarily accurate.

“I believe the first week is just the beginning of a process at the end of which a broad and liberal unity government will be formed that will serve all citizens of Israel,” he added.

If Gantz fails to cobble together a coalition during his 28-day window, which ends November 20, a majority of lawmakers in the 120-member Knesset could try to endorse any Knesset member — including Netanyahu and Gantz — as prime minister. A leader has never before been elected during that time period in Israel. If that fails, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a third election in under a year.

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