Liberman won’t recommend either Netanyahu or Gantz for PM
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Liberman won’t recommend either Netanyahu or Gantz for PM

Kingmaker says his Yisrael Beytenu party can’t support Blue and White leader because his ‘enemies’ in Joint List appear poised to; president urges national unity government

Israeli ex-defense minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to members of his party Yisrael Beytenu, during a meeting in the cooperative Israeli village of Yad Hashmona near Jerusalem on September 22, 2019.  (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
Israeli ex-defense minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to members of his party Yisrael Beytenu, during a meeting in the cooperative Israeli village of Yad Hashmona near Jerusalem on September 22, 2019. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman on Sunday said his right-wing party will not recommend any candidate for prime minister during its consultations with President Reuven Rivlin later in the evening.

In  his remarks, Liberman — whose party won eight seats in last week’s election — said he could recommend for the task of forming the next coalition neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Blue and White’s Benny Gantz, who could receive the endorsement of the predominantly Arab Joint List.

“In the Knesset there is a party that is trying to destroy us from within, and in the best case scenario, they belong in parliament in Ramallah, not in Israel,” said Liberman, referring to the Joint List. “Therefore we cannot recommend Benny Gantz. Therefore our recommendation to the president is that we won’t recommend anyone.”

“The Haredim [ultra-Orthodox] are political rivals, but not enemies. The Joint List are our enemies,” said Liberman. “Wherever they are, we will be on the other side.”

The president has the power to appoint one of the 120 MKs elected on Tuesday as the next potential prime minister of Israel. The designated lawmaker must then attempt to cobble together a coalition that wins the support of a majority of Knesset members.

Joint List leaders Ayman Odeh (2nd-L), Ahmad Tibi (2nd-R), Mtanes Shehadeh (L) and Mansour Abbas meet at the Knesset on September 22, 2019, ahead of their meeting with President Reuven Rivlin on who they’ll recommend should form the next government. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to all-but-final election results, Liberman holds the key to forming the next government following a political deadlock between Likud and Blue and White. Liberman has vowed to push for a “liberal, nationalist, broad” unity government made up of the two largest parties. Liberman also said during the campaign that he would back the larger party, and not lean automatically toward his longtime coalition partner Likud.

In Tuesday’s election Gantz’s Blue and White emerged as the larger party according to almost-final results, at 33 seats, while incumbent premier Netanyahu’s Likud won 31. Netanyahu heads a right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc of 55 MKs. Gantz heads a bloc of 44 centrist and left-wing MKs. If the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties recommends Gantz, the Blue and White leader would have the support of at least 57 members of Knesset. Yisrael Beytenu, with eight seats, holds the balance of power between the blocs.

The Joint List has yet to announce whether it will support Gantz. The Arab lawmakers are set to meet Rivlin later this evening.

This combination picture created on September 18, 2019 shows, Benny Gantz (R), leader of the Blue and White political alliance, waving to supporters in Tel Aviv early on September 18, 2019, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing supporters at his Likud party’s electoral campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv early on September 18, 2019. (Emmanuel Dunand and Menahem Kahana / AFP)

As the consultations kicked off, Blue and White backed Gantz for prime minister, while Likud recommended Netanyahu.

Speaking to the party’s representatives, Rivlin urged a national unity government.

“We all understand that a stable government, one that can prevent third elections for at least a year, is one that will need to include both the two major parties,” Rivlin said.

Likud, the Joint List, Shas, and Yisrael Beytenu will also meet with Rivlin on Sunday, with the remaining parties set to meet with the president on Monday.

Once a candidate is chosen by the president, they have 28 days to present a coalition to the new Knesset and win a vote of confidence. The president is allowed to extend that period by up to 14 days.

Rivlin has promised to do “everything in his power” to prevent the country from heading to an unprecedented third consecutive election within a year.

Central Elections Committee Chairman Hanan Melcer presents the official results of the April 9, 2019 Knesset elections to President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, April 17, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

There also remains a final and dramatic option at Rivlin’s disposal: If no candidate wins the 61 recommendations for an outright appointment, the president may try to force a national unity government.

Last Tuesday’s election was called after a previous round of elections in April did not result in a government. The Knesset was dissolved in late May and a new vote called after Liberman conditioned his entry into Netanyahu’s government on the advancement of a law regulating the military draft for ultra-Orthodox students — a demand rejected by the Haredi political parties.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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