Liberman: PM seeking minority coalition with Haredim propped up by Arab parties

Netanyahu grasps that he can’t form right-wing coalition without Yisrael Beytenu and therefore will rely on outside support from non-Zionist factions, former defense minister says

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Yisrael Beytenu head, Avigdor Liberman, right. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Yisrael Beytenu head, Avigdor Liberman, right. (Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman claimed on Monday that after the next election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will work to form a minority coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties, which will rely on outside support from the Arab Israeli factions.

Playing off the infamous “Arabs are rushing to the polls in droves” warning made by Netanyahu on the day of the 2015 elections, Liberman said that the Likud leader was now “rushing” toward the Arab parties in order to garner their support.

His remarks to the press ahead of the Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting at the Knesset came a day after Likud MK Miki Zohar said that in its final attempts to cobble together a coalition and prevent a second round of elections, Netanyahu’s party weighed the possibility of a coalition with support from the Arab Israeli parties, which would agree to prevent it from toppling.

Zohar’s comments, which were quickly dismissed by a Likud spokesperson, would represent a shocking 180-degree turn for the right-wing ruling party, which has not only publicly rejected forming a coalition with Arab parties, but also campaigned on accusations that its rivals planned on joining forces with them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with representatives of the Joint (Arab) List party to discuss enlarging the budgets for Arab towns in Israel, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on August 31, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Capitalizing on Zohar’s apparent revelation, Liberman declared Monday, “It’s obvious that the minority government that Netanyahu is planning with the Haredim and the Arabs will be established at the expense of the military-serving… and tax-paying public.

“It appears that in Likud, they understood that they won’t have 61 seats without Yisrael Beytenu [after the September elections] and therefore decided to move toward this step with Arab parties,” he added.

Liberman cited a pair of op-eds written over the past week by Netanyahu confidant Natan Eshel, in which Eshel — who headed up Likud’s failed coalition negotiations — called on the right to build a bridge of cooperation with the Arab parties that can benefit both sides.

In those pieces, published by the left-wing Haaretz daily and the national religious Makor Rishon weekly, Eshel claimed that rather than focusing on national issues, a new relationship between the right-wing bloc and the Arab parties could be based on the three issues that the majority of Arab Israelis ostensibly care most about: economics, education and public security.

While Eshel wrote that he was speaking only for himself, Liberman claimed the publishing of the articles had been coordinated with Netanyahu. “[Eshel] did try to soften the message and spoke about the Arab public [rather than the Arab parties], but it was clear that it was a pilot to prepare for the next step: to build a minority government with the support of Arab parties from outside,” Liberman said.

In a statement issued almost immediately after the Yisrael Beytenu press conference, the Likud party called Liberman’s comments “fake news disconnected from reality.”

“There never was and never will be coordination between Likud and the Arab parties. Prime Minister Netanyahu will work to form a right-wing government led by Likud,” the premier’s party said.

In addition to the Likud party, MK Ofer Cassif of the majority-Arab Hadash-Ta’al rejected Zohar’s account outright, saying, “We have never supported and will not support an extreme right-wing government. This is just a crude lie.”

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