Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman on Saturday said he expects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign after the March 2 election, adding that “Everyone is preparing for what happens after Netanyahu leaves.”
At a speaking event in Shoham, east of Tel Aviv, Liberman repeated his assertion that “The Netanyahu era is over” and said the premier was “in denial. There will come a day that he too will realize it’s time to hang up his hat.”
He said even Yamina party leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, who “say they’ll only join a Netanyahu government… the only thing they dream of is how to form a government without him.”
Liberman, whose lack of outright support for Netanyahu or his rival Benny Gantz of Blue and White has been the deciding factor in failed efforts to build a coalition after the April and September elections, and who is projected to remain the potential kingmaker after the March repeat, said ultra-Orthodox parties were also now open to partnering with Blue and White. (The two ultra-Orthodox parties repeatedly deny this.)
“I saw Uri Makleb [of United Torah Judaism] say there’s no problem with Blue and White. You can ask [Shas leader Aryeh] Deri how many times he’s sat with [Blue and White’s] Gabi Ashkenazi recently.”
Likud in a statement said “The cat’s out of the bag. Liberman is going with the left along with Gantz and [the Joint List’s] Ahmad Tibi.”
Liberman has repeatedly rule out joining a coalition with the predominantly Arab Joint List.
On Thursday, Liberman said he wouldn’t rule out sitting in a government with the predominantly leftist Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance after the coming elections and appeared to drop his previous demand for a unity government of the Likud and Blue and White parties.
Liberman — whose policies on religion and state are in line with those of Labor-Gesher-Meretz, but whose hawkish views on security and relations with the Palestinians are in stark contrast — recalled to Army Radio that he has in the past sat around the cabinet table with Labor party leader MK Amir Peretz, and that Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis was once a member of his Yisrael Beytenu party.
On Saturday he added that the hard-left Meretz party “doesn’t exist” anymore as its own entity. “It makes it much easier.”
Liberman, whose party is predicted to win seven to eight seats in the March 2 election, likely again putting him in a kingmaker position, further said he was prepared to join a coalition led by Netanyahu’s rival Gantz.
“It all depends on the baseline,” he said referring to his demands for greater rights for the secular community in a country where marriage, divorce, and conversion rituals are controlled by Orthodox parties.
A political deadlock prevented two previous elections from yielding a coalition, leading to elections on March 2, the third vote within a year. Following the September vote, Netanyahu led a 55-MK bloc of right-wing and religious parties — short of the 61 seats he needed to form a majority government — facing Gantz at the head of a smaller center-left bloc. On the sidelines, and refusing to join either side in a coalition, sat Yisrael Beytenu and the Joint List, an alliance of four majority-Arab parties.
Yisrael Beytenu had enough seats to carry Netanyahu past the 61-seat minimum he needed in April and September, but Liberman instead insisted only on a unity government formed of Likud, Blue and White, and his Yisrael Beytenu party.
Netanyahu and Gantz, both given a shot at forming a government in September, failed to reach agreements on a unity government.
However, Liberman indicated Thursday he will no longer make that demand after the coming election.
“It is clear that a unity government will not be formed. It didn’t happen the previous two times,” he said.
Even with the support of Liberman, Gantz would likely need defecting lawmakers from the right-wing bloc to form a majority government.
Liberman predicted that the nationalist New Right party, led by Bennett and Shaked, and which is part of the Yamina alliance, would be the most likely to switch sides and abandon Netanyahu in favor of Gantz.
He also claimed that Netanyahu, who has been charged in three corruption cases and is awaiting trial, is unpopular among his own lawmakers, saying “more than half of the Likud faction dreams of choosing a new chairman. They are dreaming of the day when this nightmare will end.”
Netanyahu quickly responded to Liberman’s interview, writing on Twitter that Liberman was declaring he would join a government with Labor and Meretz — “a government that can’t be formed without the support of the Joint List.”
“Only voting for Likud will prevent fourth elections and the establishment of a government that is a danger to Israel,” Netanyahu wrote.
The leaders of the two ultra-Orthodox factions loyal to Netanyahu also slammed Liberman for his remarks.
Deri wrote on Twitter that Liberman had confirmed “he has agreed with Gantz to set up a government with Meretz and the Arab Joint List. This is a personal and ideological bankruptcy.”
UTJ leader Yaakov Litzman assured Army Radio that the right-wing bloc will not crumble and warned that “if there are fourth elections, it will only be because of Liberman.”
Taking to Twitter, Bennett also responded, writing “Liberman, just like Lapid and Gantz, want to stop religious Zionism, the right-wing ideology and Yamina,” a reference to Blue and White No. 2 MK Yair Lapid.
On Wednesday, Bennett vowed not to sit in a government with Gantz, reiterating his loyalty to Netanyahu.
Netanyahu failed to form a government following the April elections after Liberman refused to join over disagreements with the ultra-Orthodox parties on a military enlistment law. Following the September vote, Yisrael Beytenu refrained from endorsing either Netanyahu or Gantz for prime minister, insisting he would only join a unity government of their respective parties.
Despite Liberman’s support, Gantz does not appear to have a path to a government unless his party surges dramatically in the March 2 vote, after the Joint List said it would not back him unless he rejects elements of the Trump peace plan. Gantz, earlier this week, said his government would not extend an invitation to the Joint List — which has never sat in a coalition. The Joint List had also ruled out sitting in a government with the right-wing Liberman.