Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman said on Saturday that he plans to force the Likud and Blue and White parties into a unity government, and leaving out both right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.
Speaking to Israel’s Channel 13 television, Lieberman said, “We will force a government with the Likud and with Blue and White, which will be an emergency government, a national-liberal government. And we will do everything to block the haredim [ultra-Orthodox], who will not be allowed into the government.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to call snap elections for the second time in six-months after Lieberman refused to join the government. Lieberman recommended Netanyahu as prime minister following the April elections.
Lieberman wrote in a Facebook post that the party with the most seats in the September polls would gain his party’s support for the post of prime minister, opening the door to the possibility that he would recommend Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for the job.
Lieberman had declared just days earlier that he would never recommend Gantz as prime minister, going as far as to say that Blue and White can “go to North Pole to form a government with polar bears.”
He also said in the Facebook post that his goal was to prevent the far-right Otzma Yehudit party from joining the government. Lieberman stated recently that the only logical government could come from Israel’s right, which won a majority of 65 seats (including Lieberman’s five) over 45 seats on the Israeli left.
Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset member Oder Forer told JNS that “the choice facing Israel is either a Likud government together with the ultra-Orthodox, a Blue and White government along with Meretz and the Arabs, or Lieberman together with Likud and Blue and White. The people of Israel have to choose.”
As Lieberman wrote in his Facebook post, the national unity government he proposes would “represent the will of a majority of Israelis.” Most Israelis are unhappy with the power of the ultra-Orthodox parties and would welcome a government which relegated them to the opposition.
A national unity government with approximately 70 seats combined between Likud and Blue and White would be able to govern based on the will of the overwhelming majority.
The responses to Lieberman’s announcement were, unsurprisingly, divided.
“Better late than never,” MK Miki Haimovich of Blue and White told JNS. “We could have avoided this wasteful, unnecessary second election to begin with had Lieberman taken this stance a few weeks ago, but at least we are hopefully on the path to what is right for Israel today—a national unity government led by Blue and White that will serve all the country’s citizens.”
The Likud party, on the other hand, quickly released a statement saying, “The cat is out the bag — Lieberman says explicitly that he is willing to go with Lapid and Gantz, and force the establishment of a leftist government. Anyone who wants a right-wing government must vote only for the Likud party, headed by Netanyahu.”
Likud MKs are also squelching Lieberman’s idea since Blue and White has said they will not join a government with Netanyahu at the helm. “Netanyahu is our leader and no other party will tell us who our leader should be,” MK David Bitan told Israel’s Army Radio.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, Knesset candidate of the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit party, said Leiberman’s shift “once again proves that he is deep on the left, and lacks any ideological backbone.”
Shas MK Yinon Azoulay told Army Radio that “Lieberman is only concerned for himself and he has forced the country to spend billions of shekel on unnecessary elections.”
Forer replied that his party and its leader actually saved the country billions of shekels which Netanyahu had promised to give to the ultra-Orthodox parties as part of a coalition agreement.
How Lieberman’s about-face plays out and impacts voters will be seen on Sept. 17. But in the meantime, his most recent declarations have added life to a relatively quiet campaign start and may be an indication of more political shifts to come.