Several hours after the 21st Knesset voted to dissolve itself, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday afternoon blasted the Likud and its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for negotiating in bad faith and waging what he called a campaign of “propaganda” against him and his party.
Responding to an accusation earlier in the day by Netanyahu that “Lieberman is now part of the Left,” the Yisrael Beiteinu leader, whose party entered coalition talks with five Knesset mandates, said: “When a man from Caeserea [Netanyahu] calls a man from [the West Bank settlement of] Nokdim a leftist, I want to remind the prime minister that it was he who voted for the disengagement from Gaza, apologized to the dictator [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, refused the death penalty for terrorists, blocked the evacuation of [the illegal Bedouin outpost of] Khan El-Ahmar, and in response to 700 rockets, transferred $30 million to Hamas.”
Lieberman also accused the prime minister of kowtowing to the ultra-Orthodox parties over the charedi conscription bill. The former defense minister said that he wasn’t against the ultra-Orthodox public, but in favor of a “nationalistic, sane, right-wing government, not a government of halacha [Jewish law].”
“The coalition crisis around the charedi draft bill began back in February-March of 2018 and had nothing to do with the election,” said Lieberman. “During the election campaign, we repeatedly said that we would recommend Netanyahu and only Netanyahu as prime minister. When we spoke with the president, we recommended him [Netanyahu] as the candidate to assemble the coalition, and when the Likud asked us to support all sorts of initiatives over the past month and a half, including a change in legislation about the number of ministers, the state comptroller, and even on the date to dissolve the Knesset, we supported all the Likud proposals.”
“Who is at fault that we’ve found ourselves in this situation? These were the strangest coalition negotiations I’ve ever seen. Back in 1996, I conducted coalition negotiations on behalf of the Likud with [charedi legislators], and we put together a pretty good government. I can offer one of two explanations: Either Netanyahu never wanted Yisrael Beiteinu in the coalition, or the Likud were sure we’d blink and break down and accept their dictates.”
Lieberman spoke optimistically about the new election, scheduled for Sept. 17.
“I hope that in the next election we’ll get 17 seats, maybe even 18. You know that in the last election [April 9] the haredi parties got to 16 seats. I suggest that the same silent majority, rather than sitting on their sofas and venting in their living rooms, come and vote on election day. If we make it to 18 seats, we’ll decide who will be prime minister.”
Looking ahead to the next coalition talks, Lieberman vowed that Yisrael Beiteinu would not recommend Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz—whom he called an “excellent person”—to form the next government, and hinted that he would not recommend Netanyahu either.
“He [Gantz] is not our candidate to assemble a coalition, not now and not in the future,” Lieberman said.
“I have nothing against the charedi public. I think they need to integrate, but there must be a government that reflects the interests of the entire public. We won’t accept the dictates of one group. … No matter how the next election turns out, Gantz won’t be our candidate for prime minister. We will support a true right-wing government—there is no connection between what they are trying to put together now and the right. A government that in response to 700 rockets being fired continues to transfer millions to Hamas is not a right-wing government. It’s a cult of personality and populism, nothing more.”
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.