Likud’s chief negotiator: Liberman’s demands were ‘insane, bizarre’

Yariv Levin says Yisrael Beytenu leader deceived his voters, leading to new elections; firing back, Yisrael Beytenu calls Levin ‘the ultimate liar’

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin arrives at a Likud party meeting on May 28, 2019, in Jerusalem (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin arrives at a Likud party meeting on May 28, 2019, in Jerusalem (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who led the Likud party’s failed coalition talks in recent weeks, on Thursday morning accused Yisrael Beytenu of making “insane” demands throughout the negotiating process.

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor 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.”

His comments came hours after the Knesset voted to disband and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set new elections for September 17 — the second national vote this year — apparently 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.

Levin 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.

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 Haredi parties,” he said. “I feel that in the end the way he conducted himself was a deception of the voting public.”

Avigdor Liberman, left, and Yariv Levin during coalition talks on May 19, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.”

The morning exchange was a continuation of a back-and-forth blame game that stepped up overnight, after the Knesset voted to dissolve following Likud’s failure to form a coalition.

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 backs 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, which was promoted during the previous Knesset. That draft of the bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, which want to soften its terms. Netanyahu needed both Yisrael Beytenu and the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties to form a majority government.

Likud minister Ze’ev Elkin speaks in the Knesset, May 20, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Netanyahu launched a diatribe against Liberman in the early hours of Thursday morning, accusing him of “dragging the country to unnecessary elections.

“Avigdor Liberman is now part of the left. He brings down right-wing governments. Don’t believe him again. I will tell you about it tomorrow. Maybe I will tell you some things you don’t know. He deceived the electorate just to get votes,” Netanyahu charged.

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.

United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman, in turn, attacked Liberman, blaming him for the unprecedented second national election.

“Liberman chose a campaign of incitement against the ultra-Orthodox public and the Torah and used us to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government,” he told the Kan public broadcaster.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks to the press following a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset on May 29, 2019, at the Knesset in Jerusalem. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

The leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri, also weighed in, saying the prime minister had said throughout negotiations that Liberman was trying to thwart him.

“I apologized to Netanyahu this evening for persuading him for a month that Liberman would enter the government. He told me all the time that Liberman was acting against him and would not join the coalition, and he was right,” Deri told members of his faction on Wednesday evening.

Netanyahu said he would win the next election.

“The public in Israel made a clear decision. It decided that I will be prime minister, that Likud will lead the government, a right-wing government. The public voted for me to lead the State of Israel,” Netanyahu told reporters.

“Many of the parties said they will support Netanyahu. And the public made a clear statement… Liberman said he would support me as prime minister but he had no intention from the first moment to do what he said he would do,” Netanyahu said.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz on Thursday slammed Netanyahu, saying that the premier’s legal woes and determination to secure himself immunity from prosecution were behind the decision to send the country to unprecedented second elections this year.

“The country is returning for three crazy months with a cost of hundreds of millions of shekels. Instead of being invested in hospitals, the elderly, Holocaust survivors or anything else, they will be reinvested in the elections,” he said.

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