Liberman: I would have joined Netanyahu’s coalition but he refused to compromise

Liberman: I would have joined Netanyahu’s coalition but he refused to compromise

Yisrael Beytenu chief says PM is ‘always giving in to ultra-Orthodox’ on religion and state; Likud’s Miki Zohar calls for Netanyahu-Liberman talks to make deal

Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman speaks during an event in Givatayim, on September 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman speaks during an event in Givatayim, on September 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman on Thursday said that had Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu been willing to compromise on religion and state issues, he would have joined a right-wing government alongside ultra-Orthodox parties.

“He is always giving in to the ultra-Orthodox,” he said in a Russian-language interview with Radio Reka.

“Conversion, civil marriages, public transportation on Shabbat — these are the issues that matter to us,” Liberman said. “Netanyahu isn’t willing to give us anything.

“Netanyahu is completely unwilling to pressure the ultra-Orthodox to compromise on certain issues of religion and state. He’s also unwilling to separate from them. That’s the main obstacle to forming a coalition,” Liberman said.

“Since Netanyahu has given everything to the ultra-Orthodox… we cannot afford to enter such a coalition.”

Benjamin Netanyahu, right, listens to Yaakov Litzman at the start of the the weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. (Gali Tibbon/Pool via AP)

Likud MK Miki Zohar in a tweet Thursday afternoon called for Netanyahu “to invite Liberman to a meeting this very day. There is no way to form a coalition other than a 63 [MK] coalition with Liberman.”

There are less than two weeks remaining for 61 MKs to recommend one of their number to form a government. If no such majority is found by December 11, the country will be forced to go to an unprecedented third election in the span of a year.

Liberman — who refused to join a Netanyahu government in May over disagreements with ultra-Orthodox parties on the military draft law of Haredi students — has been pushing for a unity government of Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu.

On Wednesday, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein invited coalition negotiators for the Blue and White and Likud parties to meet with him in “a final attempt” to form a unity government. The negotiating teams for the parties met with Edelstein separately.

But a breakthrough appeared unlikely, with Blue and White ruling out sitting under Netanyahu so long as he faces indictment in three corruption cases. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced charges against Netanyahu in the corruption cases last Thursday.

Blue and White’s No. 3 Moshe Ya’alon reiterated the party position on Wednesday, saying the party would not join a government led by Netanyahu unless the premier is cleared of the criminal charges against him.

Earlier, Edelstein lamented that “everyone seems to have given up, and we’ve gone back — too fast — to [campaign] slogans and election calculations.”

Blue and White party leaders (from left) Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon, Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi meet to discuss ongoing coalition negotiations on November 17, 2019. (Courtesy/Elad Malka)

Calling on Blue and White and Likud leaders to “choose between leadership and cowardice, between the will of the public, the entire public, and a tremendous crisis of trust,” Edelstein said the country had reached “the moment of truth in Israeli politics. There will be no other moment. This is the moment to say: Enough is enough.”

The prime minister has accused prosecutors of seeking to oust him from power using false corruption charges in an “attempted coup,” leading Blue and White leaders to warn he is undermining and endangering the foundations of the country’s democracy. He has vowed to stay in office while he fights the criminal charges, which include bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in one case, and additional fraud and breach of trust charges in another two cases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to the decision to indict him in corruption cases, November 21, 2019 (Channel 11 Kan screenshot)

Two rounds of elections, in April and September, failed to produce an elected government — a first in Israeli political history. The Knesset now has a December 11 deadline for lawmakers to agree on an MK to form a government, or parliament will be dissolved and third elections set, likely for March.

Since Likud’s Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Gantz each failed to form a government following the September 17 election, there has been some speculation that another candidate, such as Likud’s MK Gideon Sa’ar or Edelstein himself, would use the period until December 11 to gather the 61 signatures of MKs that would see them tasked with forming a coalition.

Channel 12 reported on Tuesday that covert negotiations were being held in an attempt to agree on a unity government despite the political impasse. The outline reportedly being discussed entails Netanyahu serving as premier for several months, then a Blue and White member — likely Gantz — taking over for two years, after which a Likud candidate would take over for the remainder of the term.

However, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Netanyahu rejected this offer because Blue and White would not support granting him immunity from prosecution in the corruption cases.

Liberman pulled his Yisrael Beytenu party out of a Netanyahu-led coalition and resigned as defense minister last November over the prime minister’s security policies in Gaza. Early elections were called a month later for April 2019.

Following the April vote, however, coalition talks collapsed over disagreements on the ultra-Orthodox enlistment law, triggering another round of elections and a falling-out between Liberman and Netanyahu. The September elections also proved inconclusive, with neither leader of the large parties — Gantz and Netanyahu — able to form a government without each other. Efforts to forge a unity government have thus far been unsuccessful.

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