(October 3, 2019 / Israel Hayom) A last-ditch effort by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday morning to form a broad unity government ended in failure. According to a Likud statement, “the meeting did not result in any breakthrough.”
The statement added that “the prime minister will update the leaders of the parties in the right-wing bloc about the meeting.”
A statement from Yisrael Beiteinu reported that “Lieberman said in the meeting that given the security and economic challenges [facing the country], a unity government was a necessity, and another election would not change the political map significantly. The correct way forward is to lay down fundamental principles that Yisrael Beiteiu, the Likud and Blue and White share. Only after that will we discuss the distribution of portfolios and a rotation for the prime ministership.”
With talks between the Likud and Blue and White scheduled for Wednesday called off at the last minute, Netanyahu invited Lieberman to meet in his office on Thursday morning.
According to a Likud Party statement, Netanyahu told Lieberman in a phone call on Saturday night that “there is no point in wasting the country’s time. We’ll meet, we’ll see if it’s serious or not, and in accordance with that we’ll make a decision.”
Lieberman also commented on their scheduled meeting in a Facebook post following the phone call.
“As I said immediately after the election, as well as before and after the meeting with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, if we are formally invited, we will come, and indeed, a meeting will be held tomorrow. All of our efforts are aimed at establishing a national unity government comprised of three parties—Yisrael Beiteinu, the Likud and Blue and White,” wrote Lieberman.
“We made this position clear ahead of the election, during the election, after the election, as well as this afternoon, following a meeting of the party’s executive committee. We will not be partners to any other government,” he added.
Lieberman emphasized that he did not intend to bend on his demands, while taking the Likud to task over its conduct concerning Knesset committee appointments.
“Unfortunately, I saw the Likud sacrifice MK Avi Dichter today and move him out of the role of Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman, while at the same time zealously guarding [United Torah Judaism MK] Moshe Gafni as the chairman of the Finance Committee. I was no less saddened to see Blue and White cooperating with the Joint Arab List and the haredim [ultra-Orthodox] and agreeing to keep MK Gafni … in the role of Finance Committee chairman,” he wrote.
At a meeting of Yisrael Beiteinu Party members earlier in the day, Lieberman emphasized that “if there is no breakthrough between the Likud and Blue and White by Yom Kippur [Wednesday, Oct. 9], Yisrael Beiteinu will make its own offer to both of the factions. At any rate, after Yom Kippur, we will enter any effort to form a government in high gear.”
He added that “even if a third election is held, the situation on the political map will not significantly change, and that is why we need to … leave personal considerations and egos aside.”
Meanwhile, members of the right-wing bloc convened for a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, during which they agreed not to individually enter into negotiations with Blue and White. Party heads, however, opposed Jerusalem Affairs Minister and Likud Party member Ze’ev Elkin’s proposal they sign a document stating they would maintain their support for Netanyahu during the 21-day period in which the mandate for forming a government is returned to the Knesset.
Likud officials, for their part, emphasized the opposition from right-wing party heads was aimed solely at “preventing the failure of unity talks at this stage.”
During the meeting, National Union Party head Bezalel Smotrich made it clear he was not opposed to the disintegration of the bloc, should it bring about the formation of a unity government, even if that government did not include parties to the right of Likud.
“No problem,” Smotrich told Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during the meeting, “we will move aside and you form a government with them.”
In a statement, the Likud said that at Wednesday’s meeting, “the heads of the national camp attacked [Blue and White No. 2] Yair Lapid and accused him of dragging the state into another election. Lapid is unwilling to accept a rotation between Netanyahu and Gantz because he wants a Lapid-Gantz rotation. Lapid is holding Gantz hostage, and not allowing him to establish a unity government.”
Netanyahu also took to Twitter to say that “Yair Lapid is the only reason there is no unity government. Lapid is holding Benny Gantz hostage, and for unclear reasons, Gantz has given in to him. It is unacceptable that Lapid is dragging an entire country into an election just because he is unwilling to abandon his dream of becoming prime minister and cede his rotating with Gantz.”
In response, Lapid tweeted, “Indeed, one person is holding the state hostage. Indeed, one person is preventing a unity government. Indeed, one person is doing everything to lead to an election: Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Alongside his meeting with the heads of the right-wing camp, Netanyahu appears to have maintained close ties with Yamina MK Naftali Bennett in the two weeks since election day.
Israel Hayom has learned that the two have held numerous phone calls and on occasion met three times in a single day.
The two have also held three one-on-one meetings at the Prime Minister’s Office since the election, with the first such meeting taking place on Sept. 18, the day after the election, upon the establishment of the “right-wing bloc.”
The assessment is that talks between Bennett and Netanyahu have focused largely on various scenarios that could arise in the political arena in the attempt to form a government.
Bennett did not take part in Wednesday’s meeting of right-wing party heads, with sources close to the Yamina MK saying he was unable to attend to prior personal commitments.
Until recently, the bolstering of ties between the two figures would have appeared unlikely given reports Netanyahu was behind a campaign to smear Bennett’s wife and father in the press.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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