Foreign Minister Israel Katz claimed on Thursday evening that Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman tried to get Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon to turn his back on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a last-minute ploy to allow someone else the opportunity to form a government.
“Yesterday afternoon, Avigdor Liberman’s aide, Avi Abuchatzeira, called a close associate of Moshe Kahlon in order to pressure Kahlon to vote against dissolving the Knesset. When Kahlon’s associate asked him why Kahlon should do it, Abuchatzeira said that ‘within a week he will get all he wants,'” Katz told Channel 12 news.
Katz said that Liberman refused to compromise on the controversial ultra-Orthodox conscription law because he wanted to “take away the mandate” to form the government from Netanyahu, and had planned to do so all along.
“He planned to disregard the will of the people,” Katz said.
His comments came a day after the Knesset voted to disband and set new elections for September 17 — the second national vote this year — apparently in an effort by Netanyahu to avert any prospect of losing the premiership. That move came after Likud’s intense, weeks-long efforts to bridge the gap between Liberman and the ultra-Orthodox parties came up short.
Earlier this week, the Likud announced that it would run on a joint ticket with Kahlon’s Kulanu in the next election.
Lawmakers voted 74 to 45 in favor of the Likud-drafted bill to dissolve the Knesset. If Yisrael Beytenu had voted against the bill, Liberman had succeeded in convincing Kahlon to withdraw the support of his Kulanu party, and the two Arab-Israeli parties, Ra’am-Balad and Hadash-Ta’al, had voted against the motion, it would not have passed, and another MK would have had the opportunity to try to form a coalition.
Echoing comments made by Netanyahu and other Likud ministers, Katz accused Liberman of bringing down two governments within months, citing the Yisrael Beytenu leader’s November resignation as defense minister, which precipitated the previous Knesset’s dissolution.
Hours before a midnight deadline to form the coalition, both the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beytenu turned down an offer by Netanyahu that, in a nod to Liberman, would have advanced the Defense Ministry version of a bill regulating the draft of the ultra-Orthodox into the military. At the same time — in order to assuage the Haredim — the compromise would not guarantee the bill would ever pass into law.
In the wake of the April 9 elections, Liberman had repeatedly said he backed Netanyahu for prime minister, but would only join the government if there was a commitment to pass, unaltered, the Defense Ministry version of the bill. That draft of the bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, who want to soften its terms. Netanyahu needed both Yisrael Beytenu and the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties to form a majority government.
In his first public address since new elections were called a day earlier, Netanyahu earlier Thursday relentlessly attacked Liberman for what he claimed was an “obsession with bringing down right-wing governments.”
With Liberman having prevented Netanyahu from forming a majority coalition, a move that resulted in the Knesset voting to disband and send Israel back to the polls, the prime minister blamed the Yisrael Beytenu party chief for “dragging the country to unnecessary elections.”
Claiming, again, that he had won the last election on April 9 — despite only receiving 35 seats, the same as the Blue and White party — Netanyahu said he would have been able to form a coalition had it not been for Liberman’s “delusions of grandeur fueled by personal ambition.”
Earlier Thursday, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who led the Likud party’s failed coalition talks in recent weeks, accused Yisrael Beytenu of making “insane” demands throughout the negotiating process.
Liberman had asked for “three ministers and five portfolios” along with many other “bizarre demands,” he claimed.
“The other partners acted responsibly and were prepared for far-reaching compromises,” Levin said. “Everyone agreed that Liberman would receive [much more], as long as he wouldn’t have an excuse or a reason not to enter the government.”
He also dismissed Liberman’s assertion that he was standing up for secular principles in the face of unreasonable demands by the ultra-Orthodox.
“If you vow in advance to enter a right-wing government, you know it will have the component of ultra-Orthodox parties,” he said. “I feel that in the end the way he conducted himself was a deception of the voting public.”
Yisrael Beytenu responded that “Yariv Levin should enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the ultimate liar in Israeli coalition negotiations.”
Likud’s Ze’ev Elkin, the environmental protection minister, told Channel 13 on Thursday that “the bubble of Yisrael Beytenu and Avigdor Liberman as a right-wing party has burst” and said he hoped the public would “learn not to give power to small parties.”
Meanwhile, Liberman accused Likud of surrendering to the ultra-Orthodox factions, saying it led to the failure of coalition negotiations and the second round of elections in September.
“Unfortunately, Israel is going to repeat elections because of the refusal of Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties to accept our proposal and to vote on the draft law in second and third readings in the original version,” Liberman said.
“We agreed for the ultra-Orthodox MKs to not participate in the vote, and all the [other sides’] compromise proposals were intended to extend time and dissolve the law. This is a surrender to the ultra-Orthodox. We are part of a right-wing government, but we will not be part of a halachic government,” he said, referring to Jewish religious law.