Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman for talks next week amid stalled coalition talks, the premier’s Likud party said Thursday.
There was no immediate reaction from Liberman on whether he would attend the Sunday afternoon meeting.
Later Thursday, Netanyahu issued a video clip (Hebrew) appealing to Liberman not to enable Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to build a minority coalition with outside support from Arab MKs. Surely, the prime minister asked Liberman, “you and your party would vote against a government that rested on the support or abstention of members of the Joint List, who you have called a ‘Fifth Column’?”
Netanyahu added: “Are you really ready to endanger the security of Israel and set up a government backed by [Arab MKs] Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh?”
Liberman responded later by demanding, in a Facebook post (Hebrew) of his own, that Netanyahu not drag Israel to a third election inside a year. He also recalled that the prime minister “maintained close relations for years with Ahmad Tibi,” and claimed that after April’s elections Netanyahu tried to build a coalition involving “close cooperation with the Joint List.”
The proffering of Netanyahu’s invitation to Liberman came after a ceasefire appeared to end two days of fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Palestinian terror groups. The violence largely overshadowed the ongoing political stalemate and Blue and White party leader Gantz’s efforts to form a government.
Gantz has until November 20 to assemble a coalition. He was tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a government after Netanyahu failed to do so following general elections in September, which left both Blue and White and Likud short of a governing majority with allied parties.
Liberman, who met with Gantz earlier Thursday, emerged from the latest elections as coalition kingmaker, with neither Likud nor Blue and White able to form a government without Yisrael Beytenu. The Yisrael Beytenu chief campaigned on forcing a Gantz-Netanyahu unity government without ultra-Orthodox and “messianist” parties.
Over the weekend, Liberman called on Netanyahu to put aside his negotiating bloc of right-wing religious allies and for Gantz to accept Rivlin’s unity proposal, saying he would enable whichever of them accepted his conditions to form a government.
After meeting Gantz, Liberman hinted at disagreements at the top of Blue and White, saying that all leaders from the party must announce they accept the unity plan, which would allow Netanyahu to serve as prime minister but temporarily step aside if indicted.
“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.
Gantz said he believes Netanyahu “is charging toward elections” and does not really want to negotiate over forming a unity government.
“We just finished a good meeting where we analyzed the situation,” Gantz said of his sit-down with Liberman, which was postponed from Tuesday due to the escalation in Gaza. “We do not want to see elections and will make every effort until the last minute.”
Signaling that he will not agree to Liberman’s demand for him to accept Rivlin’s unity plan, Gantz said he is “prepared to consider any option that will uphold my principles in terms of indictment.”
Gantz’s party has previously called for Netanyahu to step down as head of Likud due to a possible indictment pending against him in three corruption cases, saying it will not serve under a prime minister facing grave charges of criminal wrongdoing. Blue and White has said a unity government with Likud could be formed “within an hour” if Netanyahu steps down.
Gantz and Liberman said they have scheduled to meet again early next week.
Blue and White and Likud have regularly blamed each other for the lack of progress in negotiations and sought to cast the other as responsible if the country is forced to go to third elections within a year. Two previous rounds of voting in April and September failed to give either party a clear path to a majority coalition.
A spokesperson for Rivlin said Wednesday that the president cannot give Gantz extra time to form a government, regardless of the security situation in Israel’s south. Gantz show down speculation that the fighting in Gaza could pave the way to a unity government.