Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman met on Tuesday morning as coalition negotiations aimed at forming a unity government with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White came down to the wire.
The meeting, the second this week between the two men, was “positive and substantive and the two will continue in their efforts to form a unity government,” Likud and Yisrael Beytenu said in a joint statement.
Liberman, who has been positioned as coalition kingmaker since the September elections, said Monday he would attempt to force a Likud-Blue and White government until Wednesday afternoon. Gantz has until midnight Wednesday to assemble a coalition.
“If by noon on Wednesday we have not reached an agreement then as far as I am concerned we have failed [at forming a unity government] and it’ll be every man for himself,” Liberman told reporters Monday, seemingly leaving the door open for negotiations for a minority government during Blue and White’s final 12 hours to form a coalition before the midnight deadline later that day.
Liberman and Netanyahu met earlier this week, with discussions characterized as “positive and substantive.” Speaking to reporters Monday, Liberman said the meeting was “businesslike” and the two did not waste time discussing their past personal quarrels.
The most recent of those was the dramatic falling out between Netanyahu and Liberman in May, when the Yisrael Beytenu leader refused to join the Likud-led coalition after the previous April elections due to disagreements with Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox political allies, precipitating the September vote.
Netanyahu on Monday similarly described the Sunday evening talks as a “good meeting.”
Should Gantz fail to form a coalition by Wednesday night, Knesset members have a further 21 days to choose a candidate to be given the mandate or decide to head back to elections — the third in less than a year. The Blue and White leader was tasked by the president with building a coalition after Netanyahu failed to do so.
Though the former IDF chief of staff has no realistic path to forming a majority coalition without Likud, he could presumably form a minority government, provided Liberman came on board, with the external backing of the predominantly Arab Joint List.
Gantz met with leaders of the Joint List recently, but has not said whether he supports the establishment of a minority government with the support of the Arab-majority parties. Arab politicians have said they haven’t received a concrete proposal from Gantz for such a move.
Liberman, who has previously campaigned on tough policies against Arab Israelis and who regularly denounces Joint List MKs as illegitimate political figures, said on Sunday that any minority government would be a “disaster” for the country.
Netanyahu held an “emergency meeting” on Monday of the 55-member bloc comprising his Likud party and other right-wing and religious parties that have vowed to support him as prime minister.
While Netanyahu has held numerous meetings with the leaders of the alliance, Monday’s was the first attended by every MK belonging to the parties in the bloc: Likud, Jewish Home-National Union, New Right, Shas and UTJ, which he said represented all of Israeli society.
Repeating many of the statements he has made over recent days slamming the prospect of a minority government supported by the Joint List party, Netanyahu told his fellow lawmakers that such a government would be “a real danger to Israel to the people of Israel.”
“We have met here for an emergency meeting because this is an emergency,” an emphatic Netanyahu told the assembled MKs in a crowded Knesset room. “Represented here are all segments of Israeli society because this is a fateful moment in the history of the State of Israel. There is a possibility that within 48 hours a government will be formed with terror supporters.”
On Sunday evening, Netanyahu’s Likud party organized an “emergency rally” that was similarly aimed aimed at “stopping the dangerous minority government that is reliant on terror supporters.”
There, the premier accused members of the Joint List of seeking to “destroy the country.” He claimed, without proof, that the Arab MKs support the Gaza terror organizations that Israel fought against last week.
Netanyahu faced heavy fire for his comments, with members of Blue and White, the Joint List and others accusing him of incitement to violence against the lawmakers and of echoing the words of far-right extremists.
Still, Netanyahu said Monday, “Not everything is lost. I think there is still hope. I had a meeting yesterday with [Yisrael Beytenu chair] Avigdor Liberman, a good meeting — and we will talk again.
“I can’t believe that Liberman would support a government like this, supported by terror supporters that want to destroy the country,” Netanyahu said. “A national unity government is what the country needs right now, and at this historic moment we have to choose between the curse and the blessing.”
Liberman refused to answer when asked which scenario he views as worse: the formation of a minority government or a third election.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.