Liberman’s party said seeking to lower threshold for splitting Knesset factions
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Liberman’s party said seeking to lower threshold for splitting Knesset factions

Yisrael Beytenu proposes legislation in apparent bid to allow Likud MKs to break away from Netanyahu — though its odds of success are exceedingly slim

Yisrael Beytenu party chairman MK Avigdor Liberman speaks at faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 11, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu party chairman MK Avigdor Liberman speaks at faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 11, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu this week proposed a bill to ease the process of splitting up Knesset faction, in an apparent bid to allow members of the ruling Likud party to jump ship and joint a coalition involving Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu, Channel 12 reported at the weekend.

Current law dictates that at least a third of a party’s parliamentary faction must wish to split from the main faction in order for such a move to be allowed. In Likud’s case this would require 11 legislators to break ranks.

The bill by Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer would allow a split with only seven MKs, the report said. It was not immediately clear whether the bill would seek to lower the general threshold for splitting or introduce a formula whereby either a third of a faction or seven MKs were required — whichever option was lower.

With seven Likud MKs, a minority government that also includes Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu and Labor-Gesher would have 54 seats, and be less dependent on outside support from the Arab majority Joint List.

Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer seen during a faction meeting in the Knesset, on December 31, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

But the network noted that the odds of passing such a bill and convincing seven Likud MKs to quit their party in the four days left for Blue and White chief Benny Gantz to form a government were extremely low.

Gantz has until Wednesday, November 20 to form a coalition. After that he will lose the mandate to do so, and the Knesset will enter a period of 21 days in which 61 MKs can declare support for a candidate of their choice to form a government. At that point, a minority government will cease being an option.

If no candidate is agreed upon after those 21 days are through, Israel must by law go to a new election, its third in less than a year.

Over the weekend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a conference call with Likud ministers and MKs, in which he warned of “an emergency situation,” claiming Blue and White had decided to try and establish a minority government based on the outside support of Arab majority parties. Netanyahu called on his colleagues to help organize mass public opposition to such a move.

Netanyahu told party officials Blue and White’s leaders had made the decision to go for a minority government and were engaged in efforts to convince their party’s more hawkish quarters. It was not clear what Netanyahu’s comments were based on, and there was no statement to that effect by the leaders of Blue and White, which insisted they continued to seek a unity coalition. Netanyahu has made similar assertions on numerous occasions in the past.

A third election, Netanyahu told officials, was “a disaster.” But “a minority government dependent on the (mainly Arab) Joint List is even worse.”

He said such a government, “dependent on supporters of Islamic Jihad and Hamas,” would be “historically dangerous” to the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a a faction meeting of his Likud party at the Knesset on September 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Blue and White denied there had been any progress on forming a non-unity government though it did not deny it would seek a “transition government” if talks on unity failed.

Channel 12 news reported that despite the premier’s ominous warnings, there was little chance of such a minority government even if Blue and White attempted to form one, as Yisrael Beytenu was seen as unlikely to support a government propped up by the Joint List.

Likud said an emergency conference would be held Sunday evening to discuss the party’s course of action in the coming week.

Gantz met with President Reuven Rivlin Saturday evening, four days before his deadline to form a government expires. The two discussed intensified efforts to reach a compromise that would allow a unity government to be formed.

Gantz was tasked last month by Rivlin with putting together a coalition after Netanyahu failed to do so following elections in September, which left both Blue and White and the premier’s Likud short of a governing majority with their respective allies.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (R) and Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman speak to reporters after meeting in Ramat Gan on November 14, 2019. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Gantz met Thursday with Liberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu party holds the balance of power in the Knesset. Liberman, a right-wing secularist, campaigned on forcing a unity government between Likud and Blue and White that does not include ultra-Orthodox or “messianist” parties if neither could form a government without him after the September 17 vote.

After the meeting Liberman hinted at disagreements at the top of Blue and White, saying that all leaders from the party must announce they accept Rivlin’s unity plan.

“What is missing for me is a clear announcement from all the leaders of Blue and White that they are accepting the president’s plan,” Liberman said, standing next to Gantz in the lobby of the Kfar Maccabiah Hotel in Ramat Gan.

“From Netanyahu we heard clearly ‘no’ — he will not accept the full plan as I proposed. Here I didn’t hear no, but I also didn’t hear yes in a positive way. It’s sorely missing,” Liberman added.

Liberman has urged a Netanyahu-Gantz unity government, but has said he would support whichever party accepted his terms if the other did not.

President Reuven Rivlin presents Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz with the mandate to form a new Israeli government, after Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to form one, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on October 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Coalition negotiations have stalled amid Netanyahu’s making his agreement to join a government conditional on the inclusion of his right-wing and religious political allies, and Gantz’s refusal to serve under a prime minister suspected of criminal wrongdoing. Netanyahu is expected to be indicted in a trio of criminal cases against him in the coming weeks, with some reports saying an announcement could be coming within days.

Rivlin’s proposal for a power-sharing rotation between Netanyahu and Gantz would see Netanyahu serve as prime minister first, but take a leave of absence from the position if and when he is indicted.

But according to a recent Channel 13 report the proposal stalled over Netanyahu’s refusal to commit to not seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution.

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