Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman has told confidants there is “no chance” he will join a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claiming the prime minister was behind multiple legal complaints filed against him and his children last year, Channel 12 reported Saturday.
The network cited those complaints as the cause for the growing disdain Liberman has shown for Netanyahu over the past year and his apparent dedication to ousting the Israeli leader from power.
Liberman was said to tell associates that in 2019 he and his family were the subject of seven complaints filed with police, prosecutors and tax authorities: five of them anonymous and two made by right-wing journalist Yoav Yitzhak, owner of the News1 website.
“It’s clear to me that behind this move are Netanyahu and his lawyer Amit Hadad,” Liberman was quoted as saying, claiming that private investigators had been sent to dig up dirt on him.
“By my code this is a sin for which there is no forgiveness, even on Yom Kippur,” he added, referring to the Jewish Day of Atonement. “They should stop sending messengers to me on behalf of Likud — the thought that I will sit with Netanyahu is a fantasy with no chances.”
Likud denied it had been behind any efforts to hurt Liberman legally. “This is an utter lie,” the party said. Liberman is continuing with his bizarre lies. It never happened.” And journalist Yitzhak called the accusations “sordid, bizarre theories.”
Liberman was said to tell his associates: “The most important thing right now is to ensure [Blue and White party chief Benny] Gantz gets the mandate [to form a government].” He said once that happened, and Blue and White gained control of the Knesset committees and process, “things will start happening” — an apparent reference to possible defections from Netanyahu to Gantz.
Once a close ally of Netanyahu, Liberman has been a thorn in his side since May 2019, when his insistence on a secularist agenda during coalition-buildings talks with Netanyahu and his ultra-Orthodox allies following an April election scuppered the negotiations and led Netanyahu to disband the Knesset and call a new vote.
Relations quickly grew acrimonious, with Netanyahu accusing Liberman of thwarting the formation of a right-wing government and having joined the left (though Liberman’s political positions remain hawkish), as well as attempting — unsuccessfully — to destroy his base of support in the subsequent September vote. Liberman instead grew from five to eight Knesset seats.
Over the past year Liberman has become an increasingly vocal critic of Netanyahu, and has recently said repeatedly that “the Netanyahu era is over.”
On Monday Liberman won seven Knesset seats, as part of a bloc of 62 lawmakers who oppose Netanyahu. The prime minister and his supporters won 58 seats.
It is not yet clear how Liberman and Gantz hope to form a government to remove Netanyahu from power. Both have rejected support from the predominantly Arab Joint List alliance and its 15 seats. The Arab parties have repeatedly been drawn as an illegitimate political partner by majority Jewish parties for their anti-Zionist positions. Liberman himself has termed Arab lawmakers “a fifth column.”
But Gantz and Liberman could be forced to rely on Arab support, first to ensure Gantz receives a majority of recommendations from lawmakers that will lead President Reuven Rivlin to task him with forming a government, and then as possible outside support for a minority government led by Gantz.
Channel 12 news reported Saturday night that the current plan was for Blue and White to form a minority government alongside Labor-Gesher-Meretz (totaling 40 of 120 Knesset seats), with outside support from Yisrael Beytenu (7) and the Joint List.
Gantz and his allies would frame such a government as an emergency government to end the political stalemate that has paralyzed Israel for nearly a year now, and one which would leave its door open to any members of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc that wish to join.
On Thursday Netanyahu’s Likud party called for a probe of Liberman in an old corruption affair involving his party, after he announced that he would support legislation that could prevent Netanyahu from becoming prime minister.
The bill proposed by Blue and White would prohibit an indicted member of Knesset from becoming prime minister — targeting Netanyahu, who goes on trial for corruption charges on March 17.
Liberman was said to acknowledge to his confidants that such a bill was problematic and indicate he may not see such legislation as realistic.
“Of course there is difficulty in legislating such bills quickly,” Liberman was quoted by Channel 12 as saying, “but the announcement of support for them was meant to halt the demoralization of the camp opposing Bibi, and this move indeed turned things around and clarified that this time there is a chance to replace Netanyahu and form a government without him.”
Netanyahu and his allies have claimed they won the election due to Likud being the largest party, and have lambasted such legislative efforts as an illegitimate attempt to “steal” the election.