Foreign Minister Avidgdor Lieberman says he suggested to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to consider bringing Habayit Hayehudi into the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance to form an even wider right-wing grouping.
Netanyahu’s Likud and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu formed a joint ticket before the Knesset election last January.
“I told the prime minister that we must discuss putting Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi together in one large party,” Lieberman said Sunday, speaking to the Yisrael Beiteinu central committee in Jerusalem. “At this point it isn’t a recommendation, just food for thought.”
Officials at Habayit Hayehudi, which is led by Naftali Bennett, were surprised by the comments. “Lieberman never talked to us about the idea,” an MK told Haaretz. “Actually, the polls show that running separately leads to more Knesset seats.”
The Yisrael Beiteinu central committee postponed indefinitely a debate on the link-up with Likud. Lieberman said the postponement stemmed from a request by Netanyahu in view of the “complex political situation.”
Still, sources in Yisrael Beiteinu said Lieberman wants the issue decided by the Likud central committee, which is due to address the subject in three weeks. It could even decide to end the partnership.
In the vote by the Yisrael Beiteinu central committee to approve Lieberman’s motion and postpone the debate, only one person abstained and one voted against.
“In recent weeks we have held several serious debates on our future and the partnership with Likud in various frameworks,” said Lieberman, just weeks after returning to the Foreign Ministry following his acquittal on fraud charges.
“Most speakers expressed a clear position, but after the appeal by the prime minister to postpone the decision, I ask you to honor his request and not decide today, but to authorize the party’s secretariat to do so when the time comes.”
Lieberman also said any military operation in the Gaza Strip should be large-scale. “Yisrael Beiteinu will oppose any move in Gaza that does not include controlling the whole Strip and cleansing it of terror cells,” he said.
“Obviously this won’t take a day or two or even weeks, but several months, and there will be a price to pay. But that price will be lower than the price of another limited operation. We aren’t interested in launching an attack or ruling Gaza, but we can’t accept constant rocket fire and can’t do with only a limited operation.”
The foreign minister also used the opportunity to criticize Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who defeated Lieberman’s candidate Moshe Leon in the municipal election last month.
“In Nir Barkat’s case it wasn’t an election victory; he bought the election with cash,” Lieberman said. “It’s true we didn’t win in Jerusalem, but sometimes the method is more important than the result. This campaign lasted two and a half months. In this short period we managed to gain 45.3 percent of the vote, facing an incumbent who spent more funds than any Israeli municipal candidate ever.”
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