Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday morning firmly reiterated his insistence on a unity government comprising his party, Blue and White, and Likud, saying it was the “only option” after Tuesday’s elections, but said he wouldn’t start coalition negotiations with any party unless it accepts his list of demands for secularist policy changes.
Liberman, who according to TV exit polls as well as the preliminary vote count could be the kingmaker since no bloc has a majority without him, appeared outside his home in the settlement of Nokdim, offering reporters a promise that he would not allow a third round of elections and would not waste time haggling. He said there was no prospect of 61 or more of the newly elected Knesset members supporting a motion to again dissolve parliament.
The unofficial results, counting some 90 percent of the votes, showed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party will not be able to form a coalition of ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties without Yisrael Beytenu, which according to Channel 12 has won nine seats in the 120-member Knesset. Throughout its campaign, the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party has said it would refuse to serve in a government with the ultra-Orthodox and has also heavily criticized far-right politicians as “messianists.”
Netanyahu’s chief rival Blue and White and other parties on the center and left are also seen as unable to form a coalition without the support of Liberman.
Liberman said that since neither Netanyahu nor Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has a 61-seat majority to establish a narrow government, there wouldn’t be 61 votes to send the country to new elections either.
Liberman laid out his demands — a secular wishlist including an ultra-Orthodox military draft, civil marriage, public transportation and commerce on Shabbat, the teaching of a core curriculum including math and English in Haredi schools, and other measures — and said he did not plan on speaking to any other party leaders until they meet his preconditions.
But he also softened his tone toward the right, describing ultra-Orthodox parties as “political rivals, not enemies,” and expressing willingness to serve in a government under Netanyahu.
He called the idea of forming a government that includes Arab parties “absurd” and said he would not sit in the government with the Joint List, an alliance of mostly Arab parties.
“Don’t waste your time. We need to pursue the only possible track as fast as possible,” he said, referring to his demands for a unity government, which he described as “the only possible action.”
Liberman said President Reuven Rivlin should take a “much more active” role in shepherding a government into existence, appearing to chide him for allowing the new elections, which many have blamed on Liberman’s intransigence.
He also expressed unhappiness with a speech early Wednesday morning from Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, which did not address his secular issues.
“I didn’t hear clear statements,” he said.
Publicly, Liberman is seen as the main cause of Tuesday’s do-over elections, having been the primary impediment to Netanyahu’s efforts to form a government following the previous vote in April due to the Yisrael Beytenu leader’s standoff with the ultra-Orthodox parties.
Thus, Liberman’s status as the effective decider of the next government marks a significant victory for him in this gamble of fresh elections, after his party had its worst-ever showing in April.
The Yisrael Beytenu leader has made no comment on who should serve as prime minister in a unity government.