Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman claimed on Saturday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is only interested in doing well in the upcoming March 2 election so that he can gain leverage toward a plea bargain in the criminal cases against him.
Netanyahu “is not running in these elections in order to put a government together. He’s running in order [to strengthen his position] to seal a plea bargain,” said Liberman told Channel 12.
“Nothing else interests him,” Liberman said in a separate Facebook post. “The stronger he performs in the election, especially if Likud becomes the largest party, he thinks this will help him limit the damage to his legal troubles.”
For its part, the Likud party responded by saying in a statement that Liberman is “spewing nonsense because he is in political distress,” adding that the only deal that is in the works is between Yisrael Beytenu and the Joint List to form a Blue and White-led government with the outside support of the majority-Arab party frequently used as a punching bag of right-wing and centrist parties.
Liberman’s fellow faction member MK Eli Avidar predicted separately Saturday during an on-stage interview in Jerusalem that Netanyahu would not be the next prime minister after the election and that the window to reach a plea deal in the three cases the premier faces is closing.
Meanwhile the Blue and White party appealed to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Saturday to probe Netanyahu’s involvement in the so-called Stocks Case. The affair is based on a reported discovery last year that Netanyahu and his cousin Nathan Milikowsky were shareholders in publicly traded steel manufacturing company GrafTech International.
According to a Channel 13 report last year, Netanyahu did not disclose his holdings in GrafTech, which he had acquired when he was not prime minister.
In its Saturday letter to Mandelblit, Blue and White cited a past Supreme Court directive which urges law enforcement to immediately probe allegations regarding candidates ahead of elections so that the public has as much information as possible on them before they head to the polls.
Likud Welfare Minister Ofir Akunis dismissed the allegations against Netanyahu and said that the rather than probe the prime minister, police should immediately question Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz days after Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad ordered an investigation into a cyber security firm Gantz led before it went bankrupt.
“Law enforcement, which rushed to file its indictment against the prime minister while he wasn’t even in Israel, should not wait a single day before summoning Benny Gantz for a police interrogation in a case that is allegedly serious and concerns misuse of the public’s money,” Akunis said during a live on-stage interview in Netanya on Saturday.
Gantz said Friday that the decision to probe his old Fifth Dimension company had been influenced by political factors. In an interview with Channel 12 he also denied any wrongdoing while reiterating his support for investigators and their right to probe him.
Regardless, Mandelblit has indicated that Gantz, who was chairman of Fifth Dimension, is not a suspect in the case.
Meamwhile, with just nine days remaining until the election, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid claimed on Saturday that the centrist alliance is just two or three seats short of being able to form a “Jewish majority” coalition. Lapid did not explain how he reached such math. Other than the left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz party, which has not polled above 10 seats, no other party has vowed to recommend Gantz be named prime minister after the election. Even the most generous surveys have not given Blue and White more than 35 seats, meaning that even with the roughly seven seats that Yisrael Beytenu is expected to receive, Gantz’s party is short of the 61-seat majority.
Labor-Gesher-Meretz chairman Amir Peretz called on center-left voters to abandon Blue and White, telling party activists in Sakhnin that its more important for Gantz to have strong coalition partners than for the centrist alliance to be the largest party in the Knesset.
“The size of the bloc is what determines [who will be prime minister] and we in Labor-Gesher-Meretz are the most loyal members of the left-center bloc,” Peretz said.