Liberman doesn’t rule out bid for PM, denies vendetta against Netanyahu

‘If we have enough seats, we’ll consider [the premiership],’ Yisrael Beytenu chief says in TV interview, adding he’ll support a right-wing — but not ‘Haredi’ — government

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2019. (Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2019. (Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman on Saturday denied having a “vendetta” against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after coalition talks collapsed and led to new September elections, but did not rule out a potential bid to succeed him.

Speaking to Channel 12’s “Meet the Press,” Liberman, whose refusal to join the government under the terms offered was blamed for the political deadlock, said his party continued to support the formation of a right-wing government after the upcoming vote.

“We are definitely in favor of a right-wing government. I don’t care who leads it,” Liberman said. “But we will not agree to an ultra-Orthodox government.

“We are in favor of a Jewish state but against a halacha state,” he said, referring to Jewish religious law.

Liberman had repeatedly said he backed Netanyahu for prime minister, but would only join the government if there was a commitment to pass, unaltered, the Defense Ministry version of a bill regulating the draft of the ultra-Orthodox into the military. That version of the bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, who want to soften its terms.

Amid reports Likud now seeks to crush his party and ensure it does not pass the electoral threshold, Liberman said he had “no intention of running a personal campaign [against Netanyahu]. I plan to run a campaign on the issues.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019, after being forced to disperse parliament and call new elections (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I have no personal issue here. This isn’t a vendetta and I’m not settling scores,” he insisted. “It all depends on the government’s fundamental principles and obligations [it will undertake].”

Liberman’s conduct during coalition talks, and his dogged insistence on the draft bill undergoing no changes, has led many to speculate he was seeking to topple, and perhaps even supplant, Netanyahu.

Liberman did not entirely rule out a bid for the premiership on Saturday, but also downplayed it.

“I see myself heading my own party. I have to succeed. I’ve never said that the dream to be a prime minister dazzles me. We’ll do our utmost. If we have enough seats, we’ll consider [the premiership]. If not, we’re rational people,” he said.

Netanyahu has blamed the Yisrael Beytenu party chief for “dragging the country to unnecessary elections.” On Thursday he said he would have been able to form a coalition had it not been for Liberman’s “delusions of grandeur fueled by personal ambition.”

Netanyahu said the Yisrael Beytenu head scuttled the negotiations because of a personal vendetta against him. “He doesn’t want me to be prime minister so he won’t let anyone.”

Notably, it was Netanyahu who decided to call new elections. The more natural course of events would have been to inform President Reuven Rivlin that he had failed to form a coalition, at which point the president could have tasked another member of parliament with trying to do so.

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