With coalition negotiations stalled and amid increasing talk of fresh elections to break the political stalemate, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman on Sunday said he would be willing to campaign together with outgoing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a partnership that could dramatically impact the balance of power in the Knesset.
“I would be happy to run with Ayelet Shaked in the next elections,” Liberman told the Kan public broadcaster.
He also told Kan he was rejecting a suggested compromise with ultra-Orthodox parties brokered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was making last-ditch efforts to form a government before Wednesday night’s deadline.
While holding urgent talks with prospective coalition partners at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on Sunday, Netanyahu’s Likud party was also preparing its lawmakers to vote on disbanding the Knesset on Monday, in the event that the efforts fail.
Liberman said that he planned to vote in favor of the bill to disband parliament, Kan reported.
Shaked, the former co-leader the New Right party, which failed to win any seats in the April 9 elections, and Liberman have met twice in recent weeks, according to a Channel 13 news report Sunday night.
The two met on Independence Day earlier this month at a party at the Herzliya Pituach home of real estate developer Barak Rosen. Among the 100 other guests at the event was Netanyahu’s son Yair, the report said.
Liberman and Shaked also met two weeks ago for a more extensive one-on-one chat, sources told Channel 13, noting that the two have been good friends for a while and have often gotten together in the past.
Three days before the deadline to form a coalition, Netanyahu has yet to ink a deal with any of his prospective partners. The sticking point is a bill that would regulate the ultra-Orthodox military draft, which the ultra-Orthodox parties seek to soften, and which must swiftly be re-legislated under Supreme Court order. Liberman, meanwhile, has insisted he will not budge from a Defense Ministry-drafted version of the bill that passed its first plenum reading in the previous Knesset.
Without Yisrael Beytenu’s five seats, Netanyahu’s prospective coalition partners can only muster 60 seats, exactly half of the Knesset total of 120.
Sources in Yisrael Beytenu said that Liberman’s ties to Shaked are one of the reasons that the party leader is unfazed by the prospect of going to the polls again so soon.
According to the Channel 13 report, a survey conducted by a “political entity” found that if Shaked and Liberman were to run together, their joint slate would win 10 seats in the Knesset, double the five that Liberman’s party currently holds.
Shaked’s office played down the significance of her meetings with the Yisrael Beytenu leader, saying in a statement, “The minister did meet with Liberman a few weeks ago, but the subject of running together in election was not discussed.”
Liberman’s office said in a statement that “MK Avigdor Liberman met with the outgoing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Independence Day. They exchanged a few words in the presence of dozens of people, and nothing more.”
Shaked and Liberamn were ministers together in the previous government, and both served on the top-level security cabinet, where Liberman was defense minister until his resignation in November 2018.
Although secular, Shaked became justice minister as a member of the national religious Jewish Home party, led by outgoing Education Minister Naftali Bennett. When elections were called last December, Bennett and Shaked split from the Jewish Home to form the New Right party.
Despite predictions of a major role in the next government, the New Right fell about 1,500 votes shy of passing the threshold to make it back into the Knesset in the April 9 vote, leaving Bennett’s and Shaked’s political futures in question.
A week after the election, Shaked announced that she was taking a break from politics for the foreseeable future.
“I am leaving for my own personal liberty, for a period that I cannot put a time limit on,” Shaked said at the time.