As the Knesset voted to set new elections on September 17, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman late on Wednesday accused the Likud party of surrendering to the ultra-Orthodox factions, saying it led to the failure of coalition negotiations and a second round of elections to take place in September.
Hours before a midnight deadline to form the coalition, both the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beytenu turned down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer that would have advanced the Defense Ministry version of a bill regulating the draft of the ultra-Orthodox into the military, but would not guarantee it would ever pass into law.
Liberman had repeatedly said he backs Netanyahu for prime minister, but would only join the government if there was a commitment to pass, unaltered, a version of the bill promoted during the previous Knesset. That draft of the bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, which want to soften its terms. Netanyahu needed both Yisrael Beytenu and the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties to form a majority government.
“Unfortunately, Israel is going to repeat elections because of the refusal of the Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties to accept our proposal and to vote on the draft law in second and third readings in the original version,” Liberman said.
“We agreed that the ultra-Orthodox MKs would not participate in the vote, and all the compromise proposals were intended to extend time and dissolve the law. This is a surrender to the ultra-Orthodox. We are part of a right-wing government, but we will not be part of a halachic government,” he said, referring to Jewish religious law.
United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman in return attacked Liberman, blaming him for the unprecedented second national election to take place on September 17.
“Liberman chose a campaign of incitement against the ultra-Orthodox public and the Torah and used us to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government,” he told the Kan public broadcaster.
Leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party Aryeh Deri also weighed in, saying the prime minister had said throughout negotiations that Liberman was acting against him.
“I apologized to Netanyahu this evening for persuading him for a month that Liberman would enter the government. He told me all the time that Lieberman was acting against him and would not join the coalition, and he was right,” Deri told members of his faction on Wednesday evening.
A visibly angry Netanyahu launched a diatribe against Liberman in the early hours of Thursday morning. With Liberman having prevented Netanyahu from forming a majority coalition, the prime minister blamed the Yisrael Beytenu party chief for “dragging the country to unnecessary elections.”
“Avigdor Liberman is now part of the left. He brings down right-wing governments. Don’t believe him again. I will tell you about it tomorrow. Maybe I will tell you some things you don’t know. He deceived the electorate just to get votes,” Netanyahu charged.
Claiming that he had won the last election on April 9 — despite only receiving 35 seats, the same as the Blue and White party, and failing to form a coalition — Netanyahu said he would win the next election too.
“The public in Israel made a clear decision. It decided that I will be prime minister, that the Likud will lead the government, a right-wing government. The public voted for me to lead the state of Israel,” Netanyahu told reporters immediately after the vote to dissolve the Knesset and set new elections for September 17.
“Many of the parties said they will support Netanyahu. And the public made a clear statement… Liberman said he would support me as prime minister but he had no intention from the first moment to do what he said he would do,” Netanyahu said.
“All of the requests and demands of Yisrael Beytenu were repeatedly rejected. I presented a proposal. He rejected it. He wanted, in the most clear way, to bring down the government. He did it to scrape a few more seats which he thinks he can get. For the second time he has dragged the country to unnecessary elections due to his own political ego,” he continued, referring to Liberman’s resignation as defense minister last November.
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz on Thursday slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that the premier’s legal woes and determination to secure himself immunity from prosecution meant the country was headed for unprecedented second elections this year.
“The country is returning for three crazy months with a cost of hundreds of millions of shekels. Instead of being invested in hospitals, the elderly, Holocaust survivors or anything else, they will be reinvested in the elections. This is happening because of two words: legal fortress. There is no other reason.”
Blue and White No.2 Yair Lapid took a similar line, referring to legislative efforts to protect Netanyahu from prosecution in three criminal cases in which he faces charges, pending a hearing.
“Netanyahu failed to form a government and dragged the country into another (unnecessary) election campaign which will cost us billions. These elections have only one aim and that is to save him from prison,” said Lapid.
Senior Labor lawmaker Shelly Yachimovich berated the prime minister, saying the Knesset was dissolved only to serve Netanyahu.
“This is a terrible end to a Knesset that has done only one thing in its wretched short life: dismantled itself to serve one corrupt man, and to hell with the country,” she wrote on Twitter.
The Knesset dissolved itself shortly after midnight, in a vote organized by Netanyahu, preventing President Reuven Rivlin from tasking another lawmaker with forming a coalition.