Netanyahu, Liberman to meet Thursday, discuss Yisrael Beytenu’s unity proposal
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First meeting since May fallout

Netanyahu, Liberman to meet Thursday, discuss Yisrael Beytenu’s unity proposal

Amid impasse in coalition talks, PM tells Liberman: ‘There’s no point in wasting country’s time. We’ll meet… make a decision.’ Liberman stresses: No coalition with ultra-Orthodox

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and leader of the Yisrael Beytenu political party Avigdor Liberman at the Knesset on May 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and leader of the Yisrael Beytenu political party Avigdor Liberman at the Knesset on May 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman will meet Thursday morning to discuss Liberman’s proposal for a unity government, as negotiations between Likud and the Blue and White party faltered.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office said the Likud leader had phoned Liberman and said: “There’s no point in wasting the country’s time. We’ll meet, see if it’s serious or not, and make a decision accordingly.”

Liberman made clear Wednesday evening that his opposition to a coalition including the full 55-MK bloc of Netanyahu’s supporters, including the two ultra-Orthodox parties, remained implacable, however. Reiterating his insistence on a unity government comprising only Likud, Blue and White and his own Yisrael Beytenu, Liberman stressed Wednesday evening, “We will not be partners” in any other government.

Liberman delivered the same message when he met last week with Gantz.

Earlier Wednesday, Liberman had said that “if by Yom Kippur [next Tuesday evening] there is no breakthrough, Yisrael Beytenu will present its own offer to the two factions [Likud and Blue and White].”

Netanyahu and Liberman had a very public falling out in May when Liberman’s refusal to join a government due to policies favoring the ultra-Orthodox led to the premier’s failure to form a coalition, prompting a second round of elections in five months. Netanyahu has since branded the Yisrael Beytenu chief as “part of the left” and the two have often been at each other’s throats.

Thursday will apparently be their first sit-down since their quarrel began.

Liberman, whose party rose from five to eight seats in the September 17 elections and holds the balance of power in the Knesset between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White, campaigned on forcing a unity government between the two parties and on not joining a government with the ultra-Orthodox — a vow he has reiterated since the vote.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu and Blue and White’s No. 2 Yair Lapid traded blows online on Wednesday, as the premier continued to claim that it was Lapid who was the main obstacle to forming a unity government.

“The only reason there is no unity is Yair Lapid. Lapid is holding [Blue and White chief] Benny Gantz hostage and for reasons unknown Gantz has given in to him. It is inconceivable for Lapid to drag an entire country to elections only because he is unwilling to let go of his dream to be prime minister and give up the rotation with Benny Gantz,” Netanyahu tweeted.

Blue and White party leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz ahead of a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Lapid responded: “Indeed a single person is holding the country hostage. Indeed a single person is preventing a unity government. Indeed a single person is doing everything to lead to elections: Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Likud and Blue and White have held talks in recent days on the possibility of a power-sharing arrangement suggested by the president, whereby each party would hold the premiership for two years in the next government.

Blue and White officials have said it is Likud’s insistence on Netanyahu being the first to lead such a “rotation” deal, as well as its insistence it will only form a government that includes smaller right-wing and ultra-Orthodox religious parties, that are holding up the negotiations.

But Likud has said it is actually Lapid that is the problem. When they formed Blue and White, Lapid and Benny Gantz agreed on a rotation deal of their own, with Gantz first serving as prime minister in any government they formed, and Lapid later taking over.

Likud officials have been claiming in recent days that it is Lapid’s refusal to give up this agreement in favor of the Netanyahu-Gantz arrangement that is the issue.

Rafi Peretz, left, Bezalel Smotrich, center, and Ayelet Shaked, right, at the Yamina party headquarters on election night in Ramat Gan, September 17, 2019. (Flash90)

Following the elections, the leaders of the national-religious Yamina alliance and the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas parties signed an agreement with Netanyahu pledging to enter coalition negotiations as one 55-strong bloc led by the Likud leader. Liberman and Gantz have both blasted the move, with the latter pointing to it as a key obstacle in his party’s coalition talks with Likud.

Likud on Wednesday reportedly sought to extend its agreement with its three partners in the bloc, so that it would be valid even after Gantz tries and potentially fails to form a government, during a further potential 21 days in which the president could seek to ascertain whether another MK could muster a Knesset majority. Yamina, United Torah Judaism and Shas did not agree to this, however, according to a Ynet report.

Blue and White has also ruled out joining a coalition under Netanyahu due to the pending corruption indictments against him.

Gantz heads a 54-strong bloc of MKs who have endorsed him as prime minister, but the 10 Arab MKs in the bloc would not sit in a coalition he heads. Three other Arab MKs endorsed no prime ministerial candidate, and neither did Liberman’s party.

Negotiations between representatives from Likud and Blue and White over the possibility of forming a unity government have stalled, and Gantz canceled a planned meeting with the premier on Wednesday, saying the state of talks between the party’s negotiating teams did not justify it.

President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz shake hands at the memorial ceremony for the late president Shimon Peres, at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, on September 19, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Blue and White officials said Likud was not negotiating in good faith, and was only seeking to blame them for the failure to form a government.

Likud had framed the meeting between the two leaders as Netanyahu’s final attempt to reach agreements before he admits defeat in his attempt to form a coalition and allows the president to task someone else with the job.

The meeting’s cancellation led to speculation that Netanyahu could go to President Reuven Rivlin as early as Wednesday. But in a Wednesday morning meeting with members of the right-wing religious bloc, Netanyahu did not indicate such a move was imminent.

Likud and Blue and White have accused each other of intransigence in the coalition talks and claimed that the other side was pushing the country toward a third election.

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