Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday evening complained that the task of forming a coalition seemed “absurd,” accusing potential coalition partners of making excessive and conflicting demands during negotiations.
Two weeks before the final deadline for submitting Netanyahu’s coalition to the Knesset, talks appeared to have stalled, and no agreement has been signed with any party. Without reconciling the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties’ demands and securing their support, Netanyahu will be unable to achieve a coalition of at least 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset. Nonetheless, most analysts believe the coalition will come together in the next two weeks.
At an event in the northern town of Atlit marking 100 years since the death of Zionist activist Aaron Aaronsohn, Netanyahu said: “I prefer to be here than at coalition negotiations, and be free for a bit from this task which seems absurd.”
“All the factions are making impossible demands that conflict with each other,” the premier charged. “One faction asked for four minister posts and budgetary demands that we don’t have.
“Had we had a budget like the United States, it could have been okay. But we don’t, and we cannot destroy Israel’s economy and the state’s budget.”
The Haaretz daily on Wednesday quoted sources familiar with the talks as saying Netanyahu, whose Likud party won 35 seats in the April 9 election, has started to wonder if Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman and Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon were coordinating an effort to torpedo the establishment of a right-wing coalition.
Liberman later denied doing anything of the kind; Kahlon, as of Wednesday evening, had not responded to the claim.
The secularist, hawkish Liberman has demanded more than what Likud believes is his fair share of control over ministries and government policies — given his party’s paltry five Knesset seats — including the defense minister post, a more secularist religion-and-state stance, and a more combative posture toward Hamas in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Kulanu’s Kahlon, the finance minister in the outgoing government — in which he controlled 10 Knesset seats — is now seeking to hold on to the job despite his party shrinking to just four seats and has refused to conclude his coalition talks with Likud.
On Tuesday, United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler openly accused Liberman of trying to prevent a right-wing government.
“Maybe he’s struck a deal with [Blue and White’s] Yair Lapid to establish a secular government without Haredim, and without Netanyahu,” Eichler suggested in an interview with Kan radio.
Liberman threatened on Monday to take his party to the opposition, citing significant gaps with Likud in coalition talks, mainly on security-related issues. He declared he would hold no further negotiations, telling Netanyahu that he could either accept his demands or risk sending Israelis back to the polls.
In the coalition talks, Liberman laid out five core demands he said were his party’s red lines, including the defeat of Hamas, blocking any changes to proposed legislation regulating military conscription for ultra-Orthodox men, and ending certain despised practices employed by some in the state rabbinate when dealing with Russian-speaking immigrants, such as DNA tests to examine Jewish family ties.
If Netanyahu fails to form a coalition by May 28, the task could be assigned to a different member of the Knesset. If no member of the legislature is likely to be able to form a government, the country could face new elections.