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'The era of obedience' to Netanyahu in Likud 'is over'

Liberman says budget defeat shows Netanyahu has ‘lost his magic,’ is washed up

Former ally-turned bitter rival suggests former PM has lost the will to fight, quotes Likud MK’s as saying: ‘We were idiots for listening to him’

Opposition Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu walks next to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during the vote on the state budget, in the Knesset on November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu walks next to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during the vote on the state budget, in the Knesset on November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman suggested on Friday that opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to prevent the approval of the state budget signaled the end of his control over the Likud party, saying that he had “lost his magic.”

Liberman — a former ally and confidant of Netanyahu, turned bitter political foe — who united his Yisrael Beytenu party with seven other parties in a coalition that ended Netanyahu’s 12-year reign in June, said he had also seen growing dissent in Likud.

“I’m not a magician, I’m the finance minister. The magician is someone else,” he said in an interview with Channel 12 news on the budget, referring to Netanyahu’s reputation for pulling political magic at the last moment.

“In my opinion, his magic is finished,” Liberman said, echoing words on the front page of the Yedioth Aharonth daily on Friday that proclaimed: “No rabbit is coming out of the hat now.”

“In the last three days in the Knesset, almost every Likud MK came up to me and said: ‘We were idiots for listening to him and not insisting on passing a budget [in the last Knesset and retaining power],'” Liberman said, although he conceded that most Likud members were not yet going public with their opposition to the long-time party leader.

“The era of obedience there (to Netanyahu) is over,” he predicted.

Then-prime mMinister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, on October 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu is widely believed to have torpedoed the previous budget efforts last year, under his power-sharing government with Benny Gantz, in order to bring down that coalition and avoid passing the premiership on to Gantz as had been agreed between the two as part of their short-lived deal.

That fight led directly to the collapse of the last government and the most recent election, the results of which saw Netanyahu ousted from office.

Liberman also described Netanyahu as appearing washed up and listless over the parliamentary defeat.

“I saw Netanyahu, I have known him for a while now. There sat a man who had turned off, without passion, without energy,” said Liberman who got his start in politics working as Netanyahu’s chief of staff.

“It’s not a coincidence that he made mistakes in his vote six or seven times and it’s no coincidence that he sat with his head down in his book. His head is somewhere else,” said Liberman.

Netanyahu accidentally voted with the coalition several times during the marathon sessions.

“It happens that you get confused while voting. Ask anyone who voted for Bennett,” Netanyahu sniped on Twitter, referring to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Channel 12 also quoted Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, another former Netanyahu confidant, as saying that “the Netanyahu era was over.”

Head of opposition and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Likud MK Yuli Edelstein during a plenum session and a vote on the state budget on the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Addressing the Knesset on Wednesday, ahead of the vote, Netanyahu vowed to carry on.

“We will continue to fight this awful government. We will leave no stone unturned, we will look for any way to topple it, to return Israel to the right track,” he said.

But Netanyahu’s prospects of doing so are now much reduced, and there will be a new focus now on his capacity to hold together the opposition. Former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein has openly vowed to challenge Netanyahu’s leadership of Likud. Still, the former prime minister is bolstered by opinion polls that suggest rising support for Likud, even as Netanyahu’s trial in three corruption cases continues.

Liberman also predicted that the coalition would survive its full term and said he was confident that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid would become prime minister under a rotation agreement.

The Knesset passed Israel’s 2022 budget early Friday morning, clearing the complex legislation’s last hurdle after the 2021 budget was approved early Thursday, and capping a major success for Bennett’s unlikely ruling alliance of eight ideological disparate parties.

Failure to pass the 2021 budget before November 14 would have resulted in the dissolution of the government and snap elections.

Meanwhile, Channel 13 reported Friday that despite the defeat over the budget, the opposition planned to continue to try and exploit the divisions in the coalition. It said opposition parties would go as far as supporting bills by the mostly Arab Joint List in a bid to get the Islamist Ra’am party, a coalition member, to break with its partners.

The passage of the 2021 and 2022 budgets shores up the government’s stability after years of political crises that saw the Knesset fail to pass a national budget for more than three years, and proved Bennett’s unwieldy coalition can come together on major issues.

The coalition could muster only 61 votes in the 120-seat parliament, meaning the defection of a single member would have doomed the budget and caused early elections. But the complex package of legislation passed with only a single hiccup, when a Labor MK inadvertently voted with the opposition on a single element of the 2022 budget. This caused a delay of several hours on Thursday evening as that clause had to be re-approved in committee, but the final 2022 budget was smoothly approved early Friday.

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