Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on Wednesday urged Israeli pollsters to henceforth classify Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party as part of the political left in its polls.
Citing Liberman’s recent vote-surplus sharing agreement with the centrist Blue and White party, Likud campaign director Ofer Golan wrote to survey takers claiming that accord “establishes the fact that from now on Yisrael Beytenu is a part of the left-wing bloc.”
While liberal on social issues such as civil marriage and conversion to Judaism, Liberman is a hardliner when it comes to security and the Palestinians. A resident of the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, Liberman has publicly castigated Netanyahu for his “capitulation to terror” in Gaza and called for a “hard and disproportionate blow” against the Hamas terror organization. He has long advocated a two-state plan under which some Arab Israeli towns would be handed over to a future Palestinian state.
He once said that all the “Palestinians” in Israel should go live under the rule of the Palestinian Authority.
Liberman’s refusal to join a Netanyahu-led coalition in May over disagreements with ultra-Orthodox parties led the prime minister to call new elections. Since that time Netanyahu has repeatedly accused his former political partner of being a leftist.
Yisrael Beytenu and Blue and White on Tuesday made a deal to share surplus votes, which would allow one of the parties to receive the other’s unneeded ballots — those that don’t add up to an extra Knesset seat. Liberman told the Kan public broadcaster that his willingness to share votes with the centrist party was “a technical step only,” and not an ideological statement.
Likud and Blue and White have been neck-and-neck in most recent polls, and whichever party wins more Knesset seats could win the first chance to form the next coalition. Liberman, who tanked coalition negotiations with his demand that the government pass an unmodified Haredi draft bill, emerged from the fray with increased political capital. Polls show him still holding the deciding say in coalition negotiations as his party has surged to a projected 10 seats after winning just five in April.
Liberman has announced that he will only recommend as a candidate for prime minister someone who supports the formation of a national unity government after the September 17 elections. Netanyahu has rejected the idea of a unity government out of hand, pledging to form a right-wing government, calling on the public to vote for his party and attacking Gantz, Lapid and Liberman as leftists. Gantz has not ruled out a unity government, but he said he would not serve in a government with Netanyahu, who faces three indictments for corruption, pending a hearing.