Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman on Saturday called again for the Likud party, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White, led by Benny Gantz, to form a broad unity government, urging them to “stop the games” and to “put their egos aside.”
Speaking in a Channel 12 interview Saturday, Liberman said a Likud-Blue and White unity government was the “only good option” going forward, days after Gantz was officially tasked with forming a government following Netanyahu’s failure to do so himself.
Liberman said the other three “terrible” options were a minority government led by Gantz, a minority government led by Netanyahu, and a third round of elections.
Israel’s September elections – the second in six months – delivered a political deadlock. Netanyahu emerged with 32 seats for Likud to lead a bloc of 55 MKs from right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties (Shas: 9; United Torah Judaism: 7 and Yamina: 7). He was initially tasked with forming a coalition based on the strength of this bloc.
Gantz, meanwhile, heads a bloc of 54 MKs from the center, left and Arab parties (Blue and White: 33; Labor-Gesher: 6; Democratic Camp: 5; and 10 out of 13 MKs from the mainly Arab Joint List).
Liberman, whose party garnered eight seats, has vowed to only sit in a unity government made up of Likud and Blue and White.
For “dramatic decisions” on the political as well as economic fronts, Liberman said Saturday, a unity government provides the only answer.
Liberman said he received no commitment from Blue and White that he would be asked to join a governing coalition, but added that a unity government was so important for the country that his party would risk sitting in the opposition if not invited.
Liberman is set to meet with Gantz in Jerusalem on Monday, a day after the Blue and White leader’s meeting with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.
“I believe the two big parties will get ahold of themselves and form a unity government,” Liberman said during his Channel 12 interview.
He also voiced opposition to proposed legislation reportedly being weighed by Blue and White that would require Netanyahu to step down from his post if an indictment is filed in the three criminal cases against him.
According to a Channel 13 report earlier this week, Gantz’s alliance could introduce the bill as early as Monday when it gains control of the key Knesset Arrangements Committee, a temporary body that replaces the role of the House Committee in introducing legislation until a new government is formed.
Blue and White has previously ruled out partnering with Netanyahu while the Likud leader faces criminal charges.
Liberman said on Saturday that he will not back legislation that says MKs under investigation cannot serve “because you cannot pass controversial legislation while in transition.”
To pass the bill, Blue and White will have needed the support of Liberman who has thus far avoided the appearance of allying with Blue and White against Netanyahu.
Liberman has not recommended either candidate to form the next government, including earlier this week when Rivlin asked the parties if they would like to change their choices after Netanyahu announced he was throwing in the towel.
A vote in favor of legislation requiring Netanyahu to step down if indicted would likely be used by Likud to argue that Liberman is coordinating with Gantz and not actually interested in forming the unity government that he speaks of.
Moreover, while the Yisrael Beytenu chairman has been heavily critical of Netanyahu in recent months, his objections have been regarding security matters along with issues of religion and state, rather than the prime minister’s legal woes.
As someone who has faced similar criminal probes himself, it is less likely that Liberman would choose to make that a central issue of contention with Netanyahu.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced in February that he intended to indict Netanyahu in three criminal investigations.
Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution, designed to oust him from power.
His lawyers presented defense arguments at four days of hearings earlier this month in which they sought to dissuade Mandelblit from pressing charges. Mandelblit is expected to decide whether to press charges against Netanyahu by year’s end.