Liberman hints entry into coalition won’t be conditioned on harsher Gaza policy

Liberman hints entry into coalition won’t be conditioned on harsher Gaza policy

Yisrael Beytenu head, who quit as DM over Gaza issue, criticizes government’s response to violence from Hamas-run enclave, but indicates it’s not a subject for coalition dealing

Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks in the Knesset on May 13, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks in the Knesset on May 13, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman renewed his protest of the government’s Gaza policy on Saturday, but appeared to signal that he wouldn’t condition his entry into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition on an agreement by the premier to launch another war against the Hamas-run coastal enclave.

In a lengthy Facebook post, the Yisrael Beytenu chairman — who is a reported candidate to assume the post from which he resigned in November 2018 — said that “maximum agreement” is required between prime minister and defense minister on matters related to Israel’s security, including a Gaza strategy.

However, he concluded the post by stating that “one will not send our soldiers to conquer the Gaza Strip… on the basis of coalition agreements, but solely on the basis of intelligence and the opinions of the chief of staff, the Shin Bet security service director and the other heads of the security establishment.”

The remarks were in reference to a position taken by Hadashot news military correspondent Roni Daniel, who spoke on the air earlier this week against re-capturing the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians stand in line outside the post office to receive cash aid, part of $480 million in aid allocated by Qatar, in Gaza City on May 13, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Rebutting the veteran journalist’s argument, Liberman argued that if more than one percent of the 1,896 rockets fired from Gaza in the past year had been directed at Tel Aviv instead of at the country’s south, “all of the commentators — without exception — would, at worst, be demanding that the Gaza Strip be wiped out completely and, at best, be demanding that Gaza be re-occupied and for things to be cleaned up.”

“Unfortunately, because these are residents of the south [that have been targeted] instead of carrying out an appropriate response, the State of Israel allows more and more cash transfers to the Gaza Strip,” Liberman continued, referencing the Qatari grants to impoverished families that Israel allowed into the Palestinian enclave earlier this week.

The former and possible next defense minister claimed that the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups in Gaza have strengthened significantly since the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, both in manpower and weapon capacity. “We must not bury our heads in the sand and allow for the establishment of [a group with the formidability of] Hezbollah on our southern border,” he wrote.

Liberman’s post came at the conclusion of a week in which the Yisrael Beytenu chair threatened to take his party to the opposition, citing significant gaps with the Likud party in coalition talks, mainly on security-related issues.

On Monday, Liberman declared that he would hold no further negotiations, telling Netanyahu that he could accept his demands or risk sending Israelis back to the polls.

Netanyahu needs Yisrael Beytenu’s five seats to form a governing coalition. Without them, his other potential partners will only give him 60 seats out of the Knesset’s 120.

Liberman said the party had five core demands that must be all be met. They are defeating Hamas in Gaza rather than seeking arrangements with it; the chairmanship of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee; no changes to the bill regulating the draft of ultra-Orthodox men; an end to the Chief Rabbinate’s practice of demanding DNA tests from Russian-speaking immigrants to prove their Jewishness; and pension reforms.

Liberman resigned his position as defense minister in November of last year over Netanyahu’s decision to pursue a ceasefire in the Strip after a round of cross-border violence.

He was similarly critical of the most recent truce this month after hundreds of rockets were fired at Israel.

Netanyahu spoke Friday with the Yisrael Beytenu chairman, but sources quoted in Hebrew media said there was no progress during their conversation.

Likud has yet to sign a coalition deal with any other party. President Reuven Rivlin on Monday granted Netanyahu’s request for a two-week extension of the deadline to form a government, after the expiry of the initial 28-day period he had to assemble a ruling majority in the Knesset.

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