Liberman defends proposed vote-sharing deal with Blue and White

Move could boost centrist faction’s chances of unseating Netanyahu, but Yisrael Beytenu chief insists he will only back a unity government

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (R) and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman hold a joint press conference at the Knesset on February 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (R) and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman hold a joint press conference at the Knesset on February 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, whose refusal to join a Benjamin Netanyahu-led coalition in May forced the unprecedented re-do vote in September, said Sunday that his right-wing party would share votes with Likud’s chief rival for the premiership, the Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz.

Liberman told the Kan public broadcaster that his willingness to share votes with center-left Blue and White was “a technical step only,” and not an ideological statement.

Even so, such an agreement has the potential to decide a close race.

Likud and Blue and White are neck-and-neck in most polls over the past month, and whichever party emerges the larger could win the first chance to form the next coalition. If the September vote gives both parties the same number of seats — as the April race did, with 35 apiece — the added seat a vote-sharing agreement could deliver from Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party could conceivably put Blue and White ahead, possibly deciding the election.

Vote-sharing agreements are a way for two parties to ensure their leftover votes, the last few thousand votes that are not enough for another Knesset seat, don’t go to waste. A party is permitted to share these votes through a special agreement with another party. Agreements are usually signed between parties that are politically or ideologically close. Under law, the combined leftover votes go to the party closest to winning another seat, and are usually enough to add that seat to its tally.

Then-defense minister MK Avigdor Liberman, right, and then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked arrive for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 17, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/File)

“Last time [in the April 9 election], I signed a [vote-sharing] agreement with Ayelet Shaked,” then of the New Right party, Liberman told Kan.

“But they signed with Likud this time,” he added, now referring to Shaked’s new political home, the right-wing alliance of parties now called Yamina.

“There aren’t many other options,” he went on, “so I don’t see a problem with it.”

Yisrael Beytenu’s campaign has centered on Liberman’s demand for a secular-led unity coalition of Likud, Blue and White and his own party — a demand that has seen him double in size in polls, from Yisrael Beytenu’s April showing of five seats to a consistent showing of 10 in numerous surveys, as Russian-speaking and secular Israelis flock to his banner.

He may be able to force such a unity government, according to those same polls, which have consistently shown Netanyahu several seats short of a right-wing-only coalition.

Liberman repeated his call for a unity government in the Kan interview Sunday. “The first side that commits to a unity government — we will support him. We won’t join any narrow government, not Netanyahu’s and not Gantz’s,” he vowed.

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