Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman warned that a minority government would be a “disaster” for Israel, and asserted that a broad unity government was the only path forward for forestalling a third election in less than a year.
Speaking at an event in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening, Liberman asserted that “the next 48 hours will be critical to know whether there is a government committed to preventing further elections” and that a minority government under the leadership of either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz would struggle to pass legislation and would be unacceptably hobbled.
“It is impossible to deal with a minority government,” he said.
Gantz, who was given the mandate to form a government after Netanyahu failed to do so in the wake of the September elections, has until Wednesday to cobble together a coalition. After that, Knesset members may choose a candidate to be given the mandate or decide to head back to elections — the third in less than a year.
Gantz has no realistic path to forming a majority coalition without Likud, though, if Liberman were to back him, he could presumably form a minority government with the external backing of the predominantly Arab Joint List.
Likud, meanwhile, has refused to abandon its 55-MK bloc of right-wing and religious allies who have pledged to only enter a government together — a position rejected by Blue and White. And Gantz has refused to join a coalition under a prime minister facing criminal charges, while Netanyahu is expected to be indicted by next week.
According to Channel 12, Blue and White top brass Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon will only support a minority government backed by the Joint List if Liberman — who has long branded Arab Israeli politicians “fifth column” terror supporters — brings his party into the coalition.
It remains unclear if Liberman, who has said he’ll back the prime ministerial candidate who proves more willing to compromise in the cause of unity, would accept such an offer. But his comments on Sunday suggested it was unlikely.
Liberman’s comments came after Netanyahu addressed an “emergency meeting” of supporters in Tel Aviv and warned against the establishment of a minority Blue and White-led government backed by by the Joint List, stating that such a coalition “will be celebrated in Tehran, Ramallah, in Gaza, just as they celebrate every terror attack.
“But this will be a national historic terror attack on the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu claimed that during the flareup between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza last week, Gantz held coalition talks “with those same MKs who support terror organizations and want to destroy the country.” He added that while he did not want further elections, a Joint-List backed government would be worse because it would be an “existential threat” to Israel.
Earlier on Sunday, Liberman and Netanyahu met for talks aimed at building a unity government, with the hour-long conversation described by both sides as “positive.”
“Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman in the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv,” both parties said in a joint statement. “The meeting lasted about an hour. The conversation was substantive and positive and focused on ways to establish a unity government.”
Netanyahu and Liberman agreed to meet again “to complete” their talks, the statement said.
Commenting on Sunday’s negotiating session with Netanyahu, Liberman said that the two had held a “substantive meeting” and that “everyone understands that it would be absolute madness to take the country to a third round of elections.”
“I hope we can announce by midnight Wednesday that we have a broad unity government,” he added.
Earlier Sunday, negotiators from Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu reported “real progress” in coalition talks, specifically on religion and state issues.
In a joint statement, the two parties said “real progress has been made in drafting the basic policy principles, in particular on matters of religion and state.”
The parties said their representatives would meet again on Monday and Tuesday.
Blue and White and Labor-Gesher negotiators met later on Sunday.
Liberman, a right-wing secularist, campaigned on forcing a unity government between Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White that does not include ultra-Orthodox or “messianist” parties, if neither could form a government without him after the September 17 vote.
In a dramatic falling out with the Likud leader, Liberman precipitated the September vote by refusing to join Netanyahu’s coalition following the April elections, when he clashed with ultra-Orthodox parties over legislation to regulate military service for Haredi men.