Netanyahu unfazed as Liberman says coalition talks deadlocked
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Lapid says he turned down Netanyahu offer of Foreign Ministry a few months ago

Netanyahu unfazed as Liberman says coalition talks deadlocked

Prime minister confident argument over pensions for Russian immigrants will be solved soon, promises wider government will advance peace possibilities

Avigdor Liberman speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Avigdor Liberman speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Negotiations to bring Yisrael Beytenu into the governing coalition are “deadlocked,” the right-wing party’s leader Avigdor Liberman announced on Monday afternoon. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu professed himself unfazed, stressed that there was “no crisis,” and said he fully intended to widen his coalition “in the next few days.”

Speaking at a Yisrael Beytenu party meeting on the day the Knesset began its summer session, Liberman made plain that the argument was not over the most dramatic aspect of his joining the coalition — that he will be taking up the post of defense minister — but, rather, over the specifics of a second demand, for a reform that will provide state pensions for immigrants from the Soviet Union who are currently ineligible for a pension in either Israel or the FSU.

He said the reform was intended to address inequalities affecting all Israelis, and complained that the Finance Ministry — headed by Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon — was making “unacceptable” proposals on the issue. “We intended to finish the negotiations as quickly as possible,” Liberman said. “We were willing to compromise on many things, and we compromised: on (legislation concerning) religion and state and on (proposed amendments to legislation to enable) the death penalty for terrorists. But on two fundamental issues we are not willing to compromise: defense and pension reform.”

The current proposals, he said, were “unacceptable.” Nonetheless, Liberman made clear, his intention was still to join the coalition, he was not issuing ultimatums, and he was open to any reasonable offer. “We’re at a dead end. We’re waiting for other offers. If we get them, we’re open to negotiations,” he said.

Liberman also used the opportunity to apologize for bitterly and publicly criticizing Netanyahu’s leadership in recent years, saying that “thing were said, in the heat of political debate, that were out of place.” Liberman publicly castigated the Netanyahu government’s handling of the 2014 war with Hamas, at a time when he was himself in the government, and has subsequently slammed Netanyahu as “all talk” when it comes to tackling Hamas, dealing with the Iranian threat, and generally protecting the country.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 4, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Kahlon said later Monday that his goal was ensuring that inequalities in Israel were narrowed rather than widened. He said the proposal his ministry had offered on the matter of pensions was fair. “The Kulanu party will not allow the principle of equality to be harmed.” He said he wanted to see Yisrael Beytenu in the coalition, and that the proposal remained on the table.

At a Likud faction meeting later Monday afternoon, a smiling Netanyahu acknowledged “ups and downs in negotiations,” but said “there’s no crisis,” “nothing is collapsing” and there’s “no need for extreme mood swings.” He said he remained determined to build as wide a coalition as possible.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters at a meeting of his Likud faction at the Knesset on May 23, 2016 (screen capture: Knesset Channel)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters at a meeting of his Likud faction at the Knesset on May 23, 2016 (screen capture: Knesset Channel)

As well as ensuring Israel’s economic and welfare progress, Netanyahu said he intends to “advance a process of peace and security — these are not empty words. That is the reality. And for all those aims we need as wide a government as possible. I hope to realize that in the next few days.”

He said there were opportunities for regional progress, and he intended to utilize them.

The Zionist Union faction — which was sidelined from coalition talks after Liberman last week offered to join the Netanyahu government — also held a party meeting in the Knesset, at which leader Isaac Herzog defended his handling of the abortive talks. In contrast to a faction meeting on Sunday, from which several Zionist Union members stayed away, and at which others castigated Herzog for making the party appear weak and foolish, Monday’s meeting was fully attended.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog holds a press conference at the Zionist Union headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 18, 2016. (Flash90)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog. (Flash90)

Herzog urged the faction — comprising his Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua — to unite against “the alliance of extremists” now leading Israel, “in order to fight for the future” of the country.

Livni also urged the faction to put aside its “internal preoccupations” and focus “on the struggle for the values of Israel.”

Meanwhile, centrist Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid revealed Monday that Netanyahu offered him the post of foreign minister several months ago — the same job Netanyahu then offered to Herzog — and that he turned it down, because he had promised Yesh Atid voters that he would work to oust Netanyahu rather than partner with him.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, right, is accompanied by MK Yael German as he speaks at a press conference from the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 23, 2016 (screen capture: Facebook)
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, right, is accompanied by MK Yael German as he speaks at a press conference from the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 23, 2016 (screen capture: Facebook)

“The prime minister came to me several months ago, and suggested that I become foreign minister and receive other portfolios,” said Lapid. “I said ‘Thank you very much, I respect you and I respect your government, but the answer is no and there is nothing to discuss.’ Why? Because we promised (voters we wouldn’t join the coalition). It’s not complicated to stand by what you promise.”

Lapid said he would push a vote of no confidence in the government, and if he could, would suggest a similar vote for the opposition. “The last week has been one of absolute cynicism,” he said at a press conference. “The left is no better than the right.”

On a day of nonstop political infighting, the Jewish Home party leader, Naftali Bennett, demanded a change in the way that the key decision-making forum, the security cabinet, is kept informed of developments, especially at times of security crisis. During the 2014 war, said Bennett, the minister of education who sits in that intimate forum, ministers were not given enough information “to know what was going on” and were thus unable to make decisions properly.

He noted that similar complaints were raised by the government-appointed Winograd Commission into the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and protested that “10 years later, nothing has been fixed.” Specifically, he demanded that a military attache be appointed to coordinate the provision of the necessary information.

Bennett said this change had to be implemented as a condition for Netanyahu’s planned coalition changes. “This demand is a pre-condition,” he said. But Likud officials immediately rejected the demand, saying they would not be opening existing coalition agreements for new discussion.

Former National Security Adviser Uzi Arad said Tuesday that the NSA was supposed to provide the necessary information to the cabinet. “The solution exists,” said Arad. “The question is why it is not being done.”

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