Photo Credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90
Israel Beytenu chariman Avigdor Liberman at a press conference, March 19, 2019.

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Liberman announced on Thursday that he would vote against a coalition based on 60 MKs. Liberman initially recommended Benjamin Netanyahu to President Rivlin to head the next coalition government.

Liberman’s declaration followed reports of a standstill in the coalition negotiations between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, and Netanyahu’s accusations that Liberman is preventing the establishment of a right-wing government, which in the end would help establish a leftist government.

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If Yisrael Beiteinu votes against a 60-member, Likud-led coalition, Netanyahu would not have a majority and his government would not see the light of day.

At the end of an emergency meeting in his Jerusalem residence to resolve the crisis, Netanyahu attained the support of 60 MKs who pledged to recommend no other candidate for prime minister, which means a stalemate between the two blocs in the Knesset.

Likud officials have announced that if there won’t be a government by Wednesday’s deadline, there would be new elections immediately. They added that the heads of the coalition factions unanimously decided that a rightwing government should be set up without delay for the benefit of all of Israel’s citizens, headed by Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu.

The same Likud officials also said that “the heads of the factions call on Liberman to meet his commitment to his voters and join the rightwing government without delay – and not lend his hand to the establishment of a leftwing government.”

Last week, Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon told his associates that he would not agree to serve as finance minister in a Netanyahu-led minority government based on 60 MKs. It is not clear at this point whether the announcement on behalf of the coalition parties was made with Kahlon’s expressed approval.

Yisrael Beiteinu for its part denied that they were responsible for the coalition’s problem.

“All that’s needed in order to form a rightwing government is to demand that the Haredi parties remove their objection to the draft law as agreed in the previous Knesset, and the way it passed the first plenum reading with the support of the Likud and the rest of the coalition,” Liberman’s associates told the press Thursday night.

“The moment the Haredi parties withdraw their opposition to this law—contrary to previous agreements, a new [majority] government would be established,” they said, explaining that “a 60-member government is not a rightwing government but a Haredi government which, instead of preserving the State of Israel as a Jewish state, would turn it into a halachic state.”

Despite adding their names to Thursday’s statement of support for Netanyahu, the heads of the Rightwing Union party are also holding a gun to the PM’s head, since they, too, could scatter his coalition dreams (both parties have 5 seats each). Bezalel Smotrich and Rabbi Rafi Peretz announced that they would not give up the justice and education portfolios their party held in the previous government, and won’t sign a coalition agreement without them.

Indeed, the religious-Zionist parties stand to gain the most from an election re-run, seeing as they’ve probably lost as many as eight seats due to the threshold vote: Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right party could get a new lease on life, as could Moshe Feiglin.

According to reports, Netanyahu has despaired of the possibility of recruiting one or two Kachol Lavan defectors – no one there, including his former friends and allies, would walk this plank for him, since it could mean the end of their political careers.

If he fails to form a government by the deadline, Netanyahu plans to dissolve the Knesset and call for new elections. Otherwise, according to the law, if Netanyahu fails to form a government, the president would summon the heads of all the parties again for consultations, at the end of which he can assign the cobbling together of a new cabinet to another Knesset member, or recommend new elections.

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