Liberman says his party headed to opposition, slams Netanyahu-Gantz ‘unity’ deal

Liberman says his party headed to opposition, slams Netanyahu-Gantz ‘unity’ deal

In jab at Israel Resilience leader, Yisrael Beytenu chief says ‘unlike others, we will not deviate from path, promises to voters’

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference in Neve Ilan, near Jerusalem, on March 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference in Neve Ilan, near Jerusalem, on March 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman slammed the emerging unity deal between Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and the Israel Resilience party, headed by Benny Gantz, on Saturday, saying this was no unity government, merely another Netanyahu government.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Liberman said his party would stay in the opposition.

Yisrael Beytenu, he wrote, “has principles and a worldview” and cannot be bought with promises of a ministerial role or a committee chairmanship position. “Unlike others, we have no intention of deviating from our path or the promises we made to the public that voted for us,” he said in a jab likely directed at Gantz, who announced on Thursday that he would work toward a unity government with Netanyahu.

Gantz formerly headed the Blue and White alliance with the Yesh Atid and Telem parties and had campaigned in three elections on a promise not to serve in a government headed by Netanyahu, who is facing criminal charges. Gantz on Thursday defended his shock decision, saying he was “at peace” with the move even though it ruptured the Blue and White alliance he led and meant abandoning his promise not to partner with Netanyahu.

Gantz said that he, along with former army chief Gabi Ashkenazi, had decided that the only alternative to the unity move was a fourth round of elections, which was not an option during the coronavirus crisis. His former Blue and White partners Yair Laid, head of Yesh Atid, and Moshe Ya’aon of Telem, harshly criticized the move.

Benny Gantz, right, and Avigdor Liberman shake hands after a private meeting in the central city of Ramat Gan, on March 9, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Liberman, who previously held a kingmaker role after the consecutive deadlocked national elections and had pushed for a Likud-Blue and White unity coalition without the ultra-Orthodox and far-right parties, had largely remained silent since Gantz’s announcement.

But on Saturday, he wrote, “The government that is going to be formed is not a unity government, but a Netanyahu government with a Haredi-messianic bloc that is being joined by Israel Resilience. Therefore, Yisrael Beytenu will serve Israel from the opposition.”

Earlier this month, the Yisrael Beytenu party had supported tasking Gantz with forming a government; Gantz was handed the mandate, but appeared to have no clear path to forging a stable coalition.

Gantz emerged from the most recent round of national elections on March 2 with a bloc of 61 seats, including those of the Arab-majority Joint List, while Netanyahu’s bloc of ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties held 58.

The coronavirus pandemic then escalated and both Gantz and Netanyahu, who has run Israel for over a decade, publicly touted the need for a national emergency unity government in light of the global crisis. But neither had appeared to make any meaningful steps toward that goal before a Wednesday night phone call between the two.

“These are unusual times. Israel is in a state of emergency. Hundreds of thousands of families are hunkering down in their homes. There is a real sense of emergency in the face of a health threat that is taking human life and in the face the threat of economic devastation,” Gantz wrote on Thursday.

“This is the time for leaders to choose what is right and put the lingering issues and personal scores aside,” he said, explaining his decision to backtrack on his election promise to never serve under Netanyahu, who is charged in three corruption cases.

Gantz praised his former Blue and White partners, Lapid and Ya’alon, calling them “patriotic” and “principled,” but said they refused to acknowledge there was no other way forward.

According to the reported deal taking shape, Gantz is set to partner with Netanyahu in a unity coalition, serving initially as foreign or defense minister and then taking over as prime minister in September 2021, though many political analysts doubt that such a rotation will actually take place.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement on the coronavirus at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu and Gantz were meeting Saturday evening to finalize the details of their agreement.

Netanyahu also released a video Saturday evening saying Israel was heading toward a unity government to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re on our way to a unity government, to join forces for you, for our state. I see the broad internalization [of the coronavirus lockdown rules] but it’s not yet enough. Protect yourselves, observe the rules, we will need to tighten [the rules] further, but we can beat this, we will beat it together,” he said in a video message posted on Twitter.

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