Netanyahu said to seek deal to head off elections

Prime minister, Liberman hold late-night meeting, reportedly to discuss alternative coalition; PMO denies report

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman at a meeting in the Knesset, on November 25, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman at a meeting in the Knesset, on November 25, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a late-night meeting Saturday with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman in an effort to convince him to form an alternative coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties and avert early elections, the daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported Sunday morning.

The report cites unnamed political sources to the effect that the prime minister also tried to delay the second and third readings of a bill to dissolve the Knesset, scheduled for Monday. The report was denied by Netanyahu, who dismissed it as left-wing “spin” and said that the vote and elections would go ahead as planned.

Netanyahu paid a visit to Liberman at his home in the Nokdim settlement, where the Yisrael Beytenu party leader was observing the Jewish seven-day mourning period for his mother, who died last week. The two spoke for a long time, with political sources maintaining that the prime minister was trying to convince Liberman to join a new coalition.

The foreign minister has long been opposed to joining up with the ultra-Orthodox parties, and sources close to Liberman said Saturday that his position remains unchanged.

“Liberman is a man of his word, and if Liberman said that it’s either this coalition or elections, then there is no chance that there will be something else,” an anonymous source said.

The prime minister was trying to push off the Monday vote that would formally put an end to the current coalition, the report said. The Knesset committee tasked with preparing the bill has not yet convened.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office late Saturday rejected the details of the report.

“There is no limit to the spin of the left-wing parties,” it said, implying that the report was based on leaks from outside the coalition meant to harm the prime minister. “The vote for the dissolution of the Knesset will be held as planned on Monday, and elections for the Knesset will be held on March 17.”

On Thursday, Yesh Atid accused Netanyahu of attempting to split apart the centrist party in a last-ditch attempt to salvage his ruling coalition and avoid elections.

The allegations were swiftly denied by the prime minister, but sources in Likud conceded that such an attempt had been made, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ynet website reported.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, a left-center bloc aiming to overthrow Netanyahu gained traction.

Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni confirmed Saturday that her party was on the verge of sealing a deal to merge with Isaac Herzog’s Labor Party ahead of the March 2015 elections, asserting that such an alliance would offer Israeli voters a viable alternative to Netanyahu’s Likud.

On Friday, Herzog declared that he would become Israel’s next prime minister by leading a centrist bloc that would defeat Netanyahu. Since the Knesset passed the first reading of a law to dissolve itself last week, Herzog has been courting Livni as well as other politicians, including Kadima head Shaul Mofaz, in an attempt to forge such a bloc.

Livni was reportedly also fielding an offer from Yair Lapid, who proposed giving Livni and her colleagues in Hatnua four spots on his Yesh Atid party’s list. On Saturday she confirmed that her party was on the brink of merging with the Labor Party.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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