Liberman: Israelis won’t forgive Gantz, Netanyahu if third elections called
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Liberman: Israelis won’t forgive Gantz, Netanyahu if third elections called

Yisrael Beytenu chief, who helped trigger second elections, says ideological differences between Likud, Blue and White are minimal: ‘Put your egos and personal interests aside’

Israel Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman and his wife cast their ballot at a voting station in the settlement of Nokdim, during the Knesset elections on September 17, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israel Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman and his wife cast their ballot at a voting station in the settlement of Nokdim, during the Knesset elections on September 17, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman on Sunday warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz that the public would not forgive them if they fail to form a unity government and send the country to elections for the third time in less than a year.

“The citizens of Israel will not forgive you if you lead us to another round of elections just because of ego and personal matters,” Liberman wrote in a Facebook post ahead of the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

Liberman helped trigger the September 17 vote by refusing to join a Netanyahu-led government after elections on April 9 unless a bill regulating military conscription for seminary students was passed without changes — a demand rejected by the prime minister’s ultra-Orthodox allies.

Falling one seat short of a majority without Yisrael Beytenu, Netanyahu pushed through a vote at the end of May to dissolve the Knesset and call fresh elections, rather than have another lawmaker get a crack at forming a government.

Liberman, whose party rose from five to eight seats in the September 17 elections and holds the balance of power in the Knesset between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White, campaigned on forcing a unity government between the two parties if neither could form a coalition without him — a vow he has reiterated since the vote.

“The public demands a unity government,” he said, pointing out that Gantz and Netanyahu’s parties don’t even need Yisrael Beytenu to form such a coalition, as they hold a majority of seats between them. (Blue and White won 33 seats and Likud 32.)

Liberman asserted that ideological differences between the two parties were minimal and that Likud supporters were not voting for Netanyahu’s religious partners when they cast their ballots.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, September 25, 2019, when Rivlin tapped Netanyahu to form the next Israeli government. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

Following the elections, the leaders of the national-religious Yamina alliance and the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas parties signed an agreement with Netanyahu in which they would enter coalition negotiations as one, 55-strong bloc led by the Likud leader. Liberman and Gantz have both blasted the move, with the latter pointing to it as a key obstacle in his party’s coalition talks with Likud.

“Another round of elections will not lead to a different outcome but to a national disaster and economic paralysis that will be written in your name,” Liberman said.

“For the next new year… I urge you to show responsibility, put your egos and personal interests aside and establish a government that will begin to address the problems and challenges we face.”

Liberman met last week with Gantz but has not sat down with Netanyahu since the elections, though Yisrael Beytenu has indicated he would be willing to meet the prime minister if he receives an official invitation to do so.

Negotiations between representatives from Likud and Blue and White over the possibility of forming a unity government ended early Sunday afternoon with both sides blaming the other for a lack of progress and apparent breakdown of the talks.

Likud said Netanyahu would make a final attempt to reach agreements on Wednesday — the same day his pre-indictment hearing begins with the attorney general — in direct talks with his counterpart from Blue and White.

Benny Gantz, left, Reuven Rivlin, center, and Benjamin Netanyahu meeting at the President’s Residence on September 23, 2019. (Screen capture/GPO)

Immediately after the Sunday meeting, Blue and White released a statement saying that “regrettably, Likud is sticking to its precondition of ‘Netanyahu first.’ Within this framework, Likud is insistent on the 55-member bloc and on throwing around slogans with the sole aim of generating support in preparation for dragging Israel into another round of elections at the behest of Netanyahu.”

The party added: “The State of Israel needs a broad, stable and liberal unity government under the leadership of Benny Gantz — we will continue to pursue this goal and this goal alone.”

In its own statement, Likud said that the lack of progress was due to “Blue and White’s refusal to accept the unity government [proposed by] the president of the state — an equal government with a rotation between Netanyahu and Gantz.”

Likud said that Blue and White made “a strategic decision to slam the door to a unity government and drag the state into elections.”

Netanyahu and Gantz will meet on Wednesday evening, Likud said, after the Blue and White leader returns from a trip to London.

Netanyahu was charged by Rivlin on Wednesday night with trying to form a government based on the strength of his pact with right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties to negotiate as a bloc of 55 MKs, and given 28 days to do so. Gantz, his rival, heads a bloc of 54 MKs from the center, left and Arab parties, but the 10 Arab MKs in that group would not join a Gantz-led coalition. Neither candidate has a clear path to a 61-strong Knesset majority.

Gantz’s Blue and White won 33 seats in the September 17 elections, ahead of Likud’s 32 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. The eight-seat Yisrael Beytenu party holds the balance of power between the blocs, and insists that Likud and Blue and White form a unity government without ultra-Orthodox, “messianist,” left-wing and Arab parties.

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