Yisrael Beytenu said poised to join coalition, Liberman to return to defense job

Despite party’s reported understandings with LIkud, gaps remain on ultra-Orthodox conscription bill and other issues

Then-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit the IDF's West Bank Division, near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, on January 10, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Then-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit the IDF's West Bank Division, near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, on January 10, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly agreed to return Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman to the Defense Ministry in the next government.

Liberman, who served as defense chief before resigning in November to protest a ceasefire agreement with the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, has been considered the main obstacle to Netanyahu’s formation of a coalition, as the premier’s Likud party needs Yisrael Beytenu’s five seats to secure a ruling majority.

As part of Liberman’s reappointment as defense minister, a number of principles were agreed on concerning the next government’s policy toward the Gaza Strip, “so as not to return to the same point” at which he decided to resign from the position, the Ynet news site reported Thursday, quoting sources involved in coalition talks.

The report did not say what those understandings on Gaza were. Liberman demanded last week that Israel defeat Hamas rather than reach accommodations with it, but later appeared to back off that condition for his entry to the coalition.

Yisrael Beytenu MK MK Oded Forer attends a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In addition to the Defense Ministry, the report said Yisrael Beytenu would receive the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, a portfolio it also held in the last government. MK Oded Forer, the No. 2 in the party who was previously that ministry’s director-general, is expected to be tapped for the post.

Despite the understandings, the Ynet report said gaps remained between Yisrael Beytenu and Likud on legislation formalizing draft exemptions for religious seminary students, other matters of religion and state, and Liberman’s demand that his party receive the chairmanship of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee.

The reported agreement on the defense post came after Liberman met Wednesday with Netanyahu, who has until May 28 to form a government.

The prime minister also held talks with Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, another expected coalition partner.

Minister Yariv Levin, who is heading up negotiations for Likud, meanwhile met with representatives of United Torah Judaism, Shas and the Union of Right-Wing Parties on Wednesday.

Bezalel Smotrich (R) and Rafi Peretz (L) of the Union of Right Wing Parties hold a press conference after a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 16, 2019, (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The main disagreement with the right-wing alliance is over the justice portfolio, demanded by URWP’s Bezalel Smotrich, while Netanyahu wants to appoint Levin.

Rabbi Haim Druckman, a leading rabbi of the religious Zionist movement, threatened at the beginning of the week that if Smotrich did not receive the justice portfolio, “Netanyahu will not have a government.”

Kulanu party head Moshe Kahlon, who is demanding to remain finance minister, made it clear that he would sign a coalition agreement with Netanyahu only after seeing all the other parties’ agreements and financial demands, so that he would not be forced to raise taxes in return for entering the government.

Netanyahu, who is hoping to secure immunity from prosecution from his new coalition, has argued that his potential partners are demanding too much, putting the future of right-wing rule in danger.

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