Lieberman Mulls Leaving Netanyahu Government if Conversion Bill Fails

Lieberman voices disappointment with his party's failure to live up to its election promises.

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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is considering withdrawing from the government and bringing about a general election unless his party pushes through the military conversion bill that recently passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset.

Lieberman said as much last month in a meeting with MKs from his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, at a Dead Sea hotel. The meeting was documented by journalist David Deri of Channel 10's Saturday news magazine. The report will be broadcast this Saturday.

MOLDOVAN MAZEL TOV: Avigdor Lieberman, sitting left, at the bar mitzvah of Eli Yishai’s son last week.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Lieberman voiced disappointment with his party's failure to live up to its election promises. Bills linking loyalty to citizenship, the civil partnership law and two religious conversion laws promoted by the party are still incomplete, and some are being delayed due to the opposition of the Shas party.

Later this month, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is due to announce whether Lieberman will be indicted on corruption charges; such a development could also lead to Lieberman's exit from the government.

In the meeting documented by Channel 10, Lieberman gave the government a few more weeks, saying that unless the military conversion bill made progress by mid-March, his party would consider leaving the coalition.

"The government is supposed to serve until 2013," said Lieberman. "Staying until then without completing any of the steps we promised - no change of the system of government, no loyalty and citizenship, no conversion - is inconceivable."

Lieberman told his MKs that "we should understand that retiring from the government means an early election. There's no way [centrist party] Kadima would join the coalition. It may well be that the religious-conversion legislation will trigger elections."

Lieberman also raised the possibility that the coalition would reach agreements that would push the conversion bill forward, setting a timeframe of several weeks to determine whether progress on the bill can be made or whether it would be better to quit the government.

"The question now is when to hit the gas," he said. "We're slowing down the legislation, slowing down until mid-March, giving them time to reach an understanding. If they don't, we'll drive on forcefully from mid-March to complete the legislation."

The foreign minister was confident in his party's ability to pick up more seats in the next vote. "Our aim is to get 20 seats in the next election; anything beyond that is a bonus," he said. "You have to ask yourself if we're making progress on our promises to the electorate. If you feel you're stuck, there are situations when decisions have to be made, even very unpopular ones."

Meanwhile, another confrontation between Lieberman and Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be looming. Lieberman told his close advisers Wednesday he will ask the cabinet in 10 days to approve his candidate to be Israel's next ambassador to the United Nations.

Lieberman told the advisers he is tired of the delays in the ambassador's appointment and decided to push the matter forward with or without the prime minister's support. He said it was time Israel had a full-time ambassador at the UN, and that he would submit a candidate for the cabinet to approve a week from Sunday.

It is unclear who will be Lieberman's choice. The minister has high regard for Israel's ambassador in London, Ron Prosor. Lieberman has offered the job to Prosor before, but the ambassador told him he would prefer to stay in London.

Another candidate is the current temporary UN ambassador, Meron Reuben, appointed by Lieberman last July, and, according to Israel Radio, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky.

Lieberman decided to press on with the appointment after Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said he didn't want the job. Lieberman reportedly believes this happened because Netanyahu changed his mind about Erdan's appointment and pressed him to stay in Israel.

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