Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman on Friday denied that he has any kind of agreement with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, saying his party would be fine either joining a coalition or sitting in opposition.
Addressing a Channel 13 report that Gantz would take Yisrael Beytenu into any coalition, Liberman wrote on Facebook that a reported agreement under which Blue and White will not join a coalition without him “does not exist,” adding that, “we will get along fine in either the coalition or in the opposition.”
Liberman also said that he has spoken to neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Gantz, and does not intend to do so ahead of his Sunday meeting with Reuven Rivlin where he will tell the president who he recommends be tasked with forming a government.
Liberman also said that Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List alliance of Arab parties, owed his party’s success to Netanyahu, joking he send Odeh a bouquet of flowers ahead of the Sabbath as a token of his appreciation.
Liberman said the Joint List’s jump to 13 seats was a result of Netanyahu’s scaremongering and the furor around the placing of cameras in or outside polling stations.
Voter turnout among Arab Israelis rose by about 10 percent to 60% on Tuesday as compared to the last national elections on April 9. Joint List MK Ahmed Tibi on Wednesday also attributed the higher than usual turnout to the prime minister’s attempts to suppress the minority vote and demonize them.
The Yisrael Beytenu leader concluded his message by saying that he welcomed the recent decrease in name-calling from the ultra-Orthodox parties, noting dryly that he is no longer called “Hitler” by religious leaders.
However, Liberman showed no sign of weakening his staunchly secularist position on matters of religion and state, saying: “We have reached a crossroads that requires a decision between the two approaches. Not a compromise, but a decision.”
It was reported Thursday that Liberman told associates that he intends to recommend Gantz as the next prime minister rather than Netanyahu.
If true, Liberman’s comments, made behind closed doors according to an unsourced Channel 12 news report on Thursday afternoon, would mark a significant boost to Gantz, who is seeking Rivlin’s backing to form a new government and unseat Netanyahu.
Yisrael Beytenu MK Yevgeni Suba denied the report later Thursday, however. “We’re not recommending anybody at this stage — not Gantz and not Netanyahu,” he said, noting that Gantz has not ruled out sitting in a coalition including the ultra-Orthodox parties, which Suba said was a core Liberman demand.
According to near-final election results, Liberman holds the key to forming the next government following a political deadlock between Netanyahu’s Likud and Blue and White.
Liberman has vowed to push for a “liberal, nationalist, wide” unity government made up of both Likud and Blue and White, and his support for Gantz, if forthcoming, could hold extra weight with Rivlin as he holds consultations with party leaders about whom to task with forming a government.
Liberman’s support could give Gantz the numbers to form a minority government comprising Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Camp, with majority support in the Knesset based on the tacit backing, from outside the coalition, of the Joint List. But Liberman might not be prepared to join a coalition on that basis.
Yisrael Beytenu will convene on Sunday for a faction meeting to decide on its next moves.
Earlier on Thursday, the leaders of all the parties in the right-wing religious bloc signed a document pledging to recommend Netanyahu as the next prime minister and vowing to enter a coalition only as a single unit. The premier then called on Gantz to join a government that includes those parties, pressuring him to drop his demand for a “secular” unity government with Likud.
Gantz and other Blue and White leaders dismissed the offer, insisting that the next coalition must have Gantz as prime minister, not Netanyahu, and be committed to liberal policies on religious issues.
Liberman has repeatedly called for a unity government that only includes Likud, Blue and White and his own party. After this week’s elections, Liberman told Netanyahu and Gantz not to bother contacting him to seek his support if they didn’t plan to form such a government.
In a Facebook post Thursday, Liberman blasted Netanyahu and accused him of “deceiving” the public by proposing a unity government but conditioning it on the inclusion of the ultra-Orthodox and religious right-wing parties.
“As the election results begin to clarify, Netanyahu is working full-time on his new spin that will lead Israel to another round of elections in hope of getting a 61 majority for his dream government,” Liberman said. “Forming a ‘halachic bloc’ of 55-56 MKs for Likud, Haredi parties and messianics, and calling on Benny Gantz to join a unity government with that bloc, is no less than deception and misrepresentation to lay the groundwork for a third election.
“Netanyahu, who refuses to accept the public’s decision and admit his own defeat, is grasping at straws trying to create the impression that Likud supposedly won the election and called for a unity government and Gantz and Liberman thwarted that. In reality, he is continuing his attempts to persuade MKs from other parties to join him and the ‘halachic bloc’ he formed.
“I again urge the prime minister to stop the political games, tricks and stunts. Let’s sit down — you, me and Benny Gantz — and form a broad national unity government for Israel’s future.”
With almost all votes counted, the Orthodox/right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu has 55 seats, the centrist/left bloc led by Gantz has 44, and Yisrael Beytenu holds the balance of power with eight. The predominantly Arab Joint List, which has not said whether it will actively back Gantz, has 13 seats.