Liberman will ‘make own offer’ to PM and Gantz if no breakthrough by Yom Kippur
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Liberman will ‘make own offer’ to PM and Gantz if no breakthrough by Yom Kippur

Kingmaker vows to try to bridge the gap between the sides; his Yisrael Beytenu party says a third election is ‘last thing’ Israel needs

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks at a faction meeting at Neve Ilan, west of Jerusalem, on September 22, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks at a faction meeting at Neve Ilan, west of Jerusalem, on September 22, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party on Wednesday said it would “present its own offer” to the country’s two largest rival parties if they fail to reach a power-sharing agreement by next week.

“The last thing the country needs now is new elections,” the party said in a statement, adding that a third vote was unlikely to significantly alter the political landscape.

“We must reach a rational solution and leave all personal considerations and ego aside,” Liberman told party colleagues. “If by Yom Kippur [next Tuesday evening] there is no breakthrough, Yisrael Beytenu will present its own offer to the two factions [Likud and Blue and White].”

He noted that after the holy day, “the task of government-building will switch into high gear.”

Liberman added that when the 22nd Knesset is sworn in on Thursday, he will use the opportunity to try and advance talks between the sides.

Liberman on Sunday had warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz that the public would not forgive them if they failed to form a unity government and consequently send the country to elections for the third time in less than a year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem after being tasked by President Reuven Rivlin (not in frame) with forming a new government, on September 25, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The Yisrael Beytenu chief helped trigger the September 17 vote by refusing to join a Netanyahu-led government after elections on April 9 unless a bill regulating military conscription for seminary students was passed without changes — a demand rejected by the prime minister’s ultra-Orthodox allies.

Falling one seat short of a majority without Yisrael Beytenu, Netanyahu pushed through a vote at the end of May to dissolve the Knesset and call fresh elections, rather than have another lawmaker get a crack at forming a government.

Liberman, whose party rose from five to eight seats in the September 17 elections and holds the balance of power in the Knesset between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White, campaigned on forcing a unity government between the two parties if neither could form a coalition without him — a vow he has reiterated since the vote.

Following the elections, the leaders of the national-religious Yamina alliance and the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas parties signed an agreement with Netanyahu pledging to would enter coalition negotiations as one 55-strong bloc led by the Likud leader. Liberman and Gantz have both blasted the move, with the latter pointing to it as a key obstacle in his party’s coalition talks with Likud.

Blue and White has also ruled out joining a coalition under Netanyahu due to the pending corruption indictments against him.

Gantz heads a 54-strong bloc of MKs who have endorsed him as prime minister, but the 10 Arab MKs in the bloc would not sit in a coalition he heads. Three other Arab MKs endorsed no prime ministerial candidate, and neither did Liberman’s party.

Screen capture from video of Blue and White Party leader MK Benny Gantz during an interview with Channel 12 TV news, September 14, 2019. (Channel 12)

Negotiations between representatives from Likud and Blue and White over the possibility of forming a unity government have stalled, and Gantz canceled a planned meeting with the premier on Wednesday, saying the state of talks between the party’s negotiating teams did not justify it.

Blue and White officials said Likud was not negotiating in good faith, and was only seeking to blame them for the failure to form a government.

Likud had framed the meeting between the two leaders as Netanyahu’s final attempt to reach agreements before he admits defeat in his attempt to form a coalition and allows the president to task someone else with the job.

The meeting’s cancellation led to speculation that Netanyahu could go to Rivlin as early as Wednesday. But in a Wednesday morning meeting with members of the right-wing religious bloc, Netanyahu did not indicate such a move was imminent.

Likud and Blue and White have accused each other of intransigence in the coalition talks and claimed that the other side was pushing the country toward a third election.

Rivlin had suggested a unity government in which power would be equally divided and Netanyahu and Gantz would each serve two years as prime minister. Rivlin implied, but did not specify, that Netanyahu would take an open-ended leave of absence if or when he is indicted in one or more of the probes in which he faces charges. Under the arrangement set out by Rivlin, Gantz, as “interim prime minister” in such a scenario, would enjoy all prime ministerial authority.

But the two parties have been unable to agree on who would be prime minister first under such an arrangement.

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