Netanyahu meets with coalition linchpin Liberman for first time since elections
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Netanyahu meets with coalition linchpin Liberman for first time since elections

Talks between PM and his former defense minister, who walked away from previous government, held in ‘good atmosphere’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) hold a press conference in the Knesset on Monday, May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) hold a press conference in the Knesset on Monday, May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday, days before the Likud leader is expected to begin coalition agreements to form the next government.

Liberman — whose secularist right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party won five seats in last week’s election and has endorsed Netanyahu for premier — has been the only major question mark in coalition talks, with the party expected to clash with ascendant ultra-Orthodox parties on religious and state issues.

“There was a good atmosphere,” a source close to Liberman told the Ynet news website, adding that negotiations will begin in earnest after President Reuven Rivlin officially tasks Netanyahu with cobbling together the next coalition, expected Wednesday.

Liberman previously served as Netanyahu’s defense minister before walking away in November, citing the government’s “soft” security policy on Gaza. He is expected to again demand the defense portfolio, as well as veto power over religious and state issues.

Breaking his post-election silence on Monday, Liberman said he would again recommend Netanyahu for prime minister, but indicated he would hold his ground on religious and state issues in a coalition likely to be dominated by the religious right.

His backing of Netanyahu cemented the prime minister’s right-wing coalition at 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Liberman’s party on Tuesday officially endorsed him for prime minister in consultations with Rivlin. Without Liberman’s five seats, Netanyahu would be unable to form a majority coalition.

Liberman, who returned from a visit to Vienna on Monday, had not met with Netanyahu since last week’s election.

Speaking at a meeting in Jerusalem on Monday, Liberman blamed the Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism for initiating the developing crisis over the draft and other hot-button issues. He praised Israelis for electing a right-wing parliamentary majority, but lamented that “the Haredi-Hardali wing of the right grew to 21 or 22 seats, something I see as a threat.”

The president on Tuesday said his choice is now “all but certain” and he is expected to entrust the task of forming a government to Netanyahu, who is likely to be able to build a coalition of up to 65 seats comprising Likud (35 or 36 seats), the ultra-Orthodox Shas (8), United Torah Judaism (7 or 8), Union of Right-Wing Parties (5), Kulanu (4), and, likely, Yisrael Beytenu (5).

Rivlin is set to receive the official election results and then meet with Netanyahu on Wednesday, and charge him with forming a government.

Coalition negotiations are expected to begin on Thursday.

Since the election, Netanyahu has met with representatives from the ultra-Orthodox parties and URWP.

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