Warning of national crisis, kingmaker Liberman appeals for speedy unity

Yisrael Beytenu chief says his party, Likud and Blue and White should make up the government, as projections indicate Netanyahu likely unable to form one without him

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman arrives at his party's headquarters in Jerusalem on election night, September 17, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman arrives at his party's headquarters in Jerusalem on election night, September 17, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

With the confidence of a political leader crowned by exit polls as the linchpin for any possible coalition, Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday night called for the formation of a broad national unity government made up of his party, Likud and Blue and White.

Addressing supporters at a victory rally in Jerusalem, Liberman said significant but unspecified economic and security challenges facing the country necessitated a unity government, urging party leaders to begin negotiations without even waiting for official vote tallies to come in.

The projected results of Tuesday’s elections showed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party would not be able to form a coalition of ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties without Yisrael Beytenu. Throughout its campaign, the 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.

Barring a dramatic turn, the expected results of the elections have put Liberman — with the eight-nine seats his party is expected to receive in the next 120-member Knesset — in the position of kingmaker, able to effectively choose what the next government will look like.

“We have only one option: a broad, liberal, national government, made up of Yisrael Beytenu, Likud, and Blue and White,” he said, speaking on stage to a crowd of dozens of supporters and party activists at the capital’s Bible Lands Museum.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at the party headquarters in Jerusalem on election night, September 17, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Liberman is seen as being 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 party chief’s clashes with the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Therefore 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 made no comment on who would serve as prime minister in such a government. This would likely be dependent on which party received the most seats.

A campaign poster for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Bnei Brak on election day, September 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

All three projections released Tuesday night showed the Blue and White party leading the Likud by either one or two seats.

Liberman acknowledged that in Israel’s history the country has only had national unity governments in times of crisis, which he said remains the case today.

“I don’t want to scare or depress anyone, but in every way — economically and security-wise — we are indeed in a crisis situation,” he said.

“Therefore, the nation needs a broad government.”

Liberman said a government with a razor-thin majority could easily be stalled and blocked or fall apart due to in-fighting, which would prevent it from addressing the issues facing the country.

The Yisrael Beytenu party chairman said he would not back down from his demand for a national unity government and would not be won over “with rotations [for the position of prime minister], ministerial posts or budgets.”

Liberman added that he was prepared to forego serving in the government in order to see the creation of a national unity government, noting that according to all projections Likud and Blue and White will have between them more than the 60 seats needed for a majority.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and his wife Revital leave a polling station in Rosh Ha’ayin on election day, September 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

“We would of course be happy to be part of such a government but even without us it’s better than all kinds of variations of narrow governments,” he said.

He called for President Reuven Rivlin to organize at least informal talks with the leaders of the Likud and Blue and White parties by the end of the week, despite the fact the official results will not yet be tallied.

“Don’t wait for the official results. It’s acceptable, even informally, to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz to a meeting this Friday afternoon. What could be better?” he asked.

President Reuven Rivlin casts his ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem, during the Knesset Elections, on September 17, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The beaming party leader, clearly pleased with the results and the power that came with it, joked that he was sure that such a meeting would be interesting for those involved.

“The president can invite the leaders of the two biggest parties for lunch. They can do Kabbalat Shabbat together, maybe talk about the weekly Torah portion. There’s actually an interesting portion this week,” he said, drawing laughs.

“They’ll find something to talk about.”

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