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Despondent Lieberman Weighs Political Future

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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman attends a news conference after a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, January 26, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Avigdor Lieberman is depressed,” concluded a senior politician who has spoken to the foreign minister and head of Yisrael Beiteinu over the past few days. “It’s not clinical depression, but complete disgust with the coalition negotiations and the apathy about his political future,” the source said.

A similar picture emerges when talking to senior members of his party. They don’t know whether they will be part of the coalition or sitting in the opposition. But they weren’t feeling threatened; instead, it was more an acknowledgment of reality. “Either we enter [the coalition] or sit in the opposition – the two possibilities are open and acceptable to us,” said a senior party official. “Likud is taking us for granted. Our demands are not really being heard,” added another source.

The despondency within Yisrael Beiteinu is justified. Senior Likud officials say the possibility of Lieberman not joining the coalition is not a threat to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fourth term. “We can get underway with only 61 Knesset members. It is not perfect, but definitely not the end of the world,” said a source close to Netanyahu. They still expect Lieberman to join in the end. “We’re offering him the Foreign Ministry and the Immigrant Absorption portfolio. For a party that won six seats and whose reservoir of votes is running out, this is an impressive offer. Lieberman really has nothing to look for in the present opposition,” added the source.

So what is the argument about? Lieberman has made it clear that the ministerial portfolios for his party isn’t the problem: at issue is the government’s basic principles being formulated with the other parties.

For example, Lieberman was surprised that Likud preferred to close deals with the ultra-Orthodox parties and pay them a price that Yisrael Beiteinu cannot accept – like conversion and military service, as well as budgets. The rest of the problems, though, appear to be solvable.