Pushing bills against PM, Liberman says he means to press him to join with Gantz

Pushing bills against PM, Liberman says he means to press him to join with Gantz

As Knesset heads for dissolution in 21 days if no agreement reached, triggering a fourth election, Yisrael Beytenu says it’s time to present Netanyahu with a ‘tangible threat’

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference in Neve Ilan, near Jerusalem, on March 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference in Neve Ilan, near Jerusalem, on March 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a remarkable move, the Yisrael Beytenu party announced Thursday it would propose five bills in the Knesset that would present a “tangible threat” to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — arguing it would force the premier to seal the deal on a unity government with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White faction.

And it called on Gantz, as Knesset speaker, to allow them to be voted upon by the plenum, apparently not with the intent of actually passing them but as a pressure tactic against the prime minister in negotiations.

The bills include measures that would forbid MKs facing criminal indictment — like Netanyahu — from serving as prime minister.

After Gantz’s mandate to form a government expired Wednesday night without a coalition deal, President Reuven Rivlin announced Thursday he was handing the mandate to the Knesset, triggering a 21-day do-or-die period during which the legislature must either select one of its members as the next premier or dissolve and call new elections, which would likely take place in August.

“After the fiasco of the last few days, which ended without establishing a government, I demand that Benny Gantz allow us to put on the Knesset’s agenda Yisrael Beytenu’s five bills, and to exempt them from the tabling requirement [the mandatory delay usually associated with presenting a new bill], as well as establishing a special committee to handle their legislation,” party leader MK Avigdor Liberman wrote on Facebook on Thursday.

If those steps are taken, he wrote, “three weeks is plenty of time to pass all five bills in three readings. There’s no small number of precedents in which the Knesset passed laws in three readings in a single day. Everything now depends on Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of Shas, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and MK Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism at a meeting of the heads of the right-religious bloc, at the Knesset, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In an interview with the Maariv website, Liberman explained that his proposed bills were meant to ensure Netanyahu acquiesces to a unity deal with Gantz instead of forcing a fourth election.

Recent polls have suggested that Netanyahu’s Likud party would benefit from another election, though it is also seen as risky amid the current pandemic, since no one knows what condition the country will be in in three months’ time.

A main point of contention between the sides in recent days was believed to be Likud’s desire to make changes to judicial appointment procedures to give it greater control over the process, and Blue and White’s stark opposition to this.

But another key issue was reportedly Netanyahu’s concern that the High Court of Justice may rule that he cannot be prime minister due to the criminal charges against him, a development which could leave Gantz as prime minister for the whole term of their coalition. Netanyahu has therefore reportedly been trying to engineer some kind of legislative guarantee that Gantz would not take over as prime minister in the event of such a court ruling.

Yisrael Beytenu supports a unity government “even if we’re not part of it,” Liberman said in the interview, adding, “Netanyahu wants early elections. The fact is, in every meeting of the negotiating teams [of Likud and Blue and White], Likud doesn’t raise issues like battling the coronavirus or helping small businesses and the commercial sector, but focuses only on the judicial appointments committee, laws superseding the High Court, and so on.

“That tells us with certainty that the only thing Netanyahu cares about is his own fate,” Liberman said, claiming the prime minister was only interested in a government with Gantz if it meant a “safety net” from being forced to resign over his corruption trial.

President Reuven Rivlin, center, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, 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)

If Gantz doesn’t back Netanyahu’s demands to pass constitutional amendments that would protect him from a High Court intervention, Netanyahu “will drag the political system to an election, as some of his advisers are urging him to do following the latest polls,” Liberman claimed.

“It’s clear to us in Yisrael Beytenu that the only way to bring Netanyahu to an emergency government, even for a limited time, is to put a tangible and believable threat on the table,” he said. “Only when he understands that this legislation is advancing, and that the alternative [to unity with Gantz] is worse for him, he might be convinced to bring Gantz and Blue and White into his new government.”

MK Oded Forer, the party’s Knesset faction chair who is leading the legislative push on the new bills, also called on Thursday for a “real unity government,” and echoed his party leader’s insistence that only a “tangible threat” to Netanyahu would make it happen.

“We support a real unity government. We’ve said all along that in order for that to happen, there has to be a tangible threat on the table, and when there isn’t such a threat, Netanyahu will try for the fig-leaf government that he tried to form [in talks with Gantz over the past week]. Now it’s clear that we were right. If Gantz wants a real unity government, he must advance and pass into law the bills we’ve presented, and then the path to a unity government will be short.”

The exact content of each bill is not yet clear, as the drafts have not yet been formally submitted to the Knesset secretariat or posted on the Knesset’s website.

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