Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s next governing coalition will be untenable now that Avigdor Lieberman has said his Yisrael Beiteinu party won’t join, a senior Likud official said Monday.
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Lieberman has also announced that he is resigning as foreign minister. Likud had hitherto aimed to forge a coalition comprising 67 of the Knesset’s 120 seats.
“A coalition of 61 MKs is an impossible coalition,” said a Likud source, mentioning two Knesset members from the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party. “All it takes is for Uri Ariel and Bezalel Smotrich ... to flex a muscle and the government will fall.”
Netanyahu is now expected to push forth with a government representing 61 MKs or recruit new partners. He has until Thursday to form a government.
Officials from Likud and center-left Zionist Union increasingly expect Netanyahu to try to bring Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union into the coalition — possibly in a few months if Netanyahu can improve Israel’s relations with both the United States and the Palestinians. But Zionist Union officials on Monday rejected the possibility of joining Netanyahu’s team.
In any case, Likud officials admit they took Yisrael Beiteinu for granted.
“Our mission was to first close with Shas and Habayit Hayehudi, to stabilize a coalition of 61, and only then to close with Lieberman,” one official said. “The presumption was that the chance of Lieberman preferring the opposition was low, and that he would join the coalition at almost any price in exchange for the prestigious foreign-affairs portfolio.”
Now potential coalition parties have a better chance to “extort” demands, Likud officials said. Habayit Hayehudi and ultra-Orthodox party Shas will be in a better position to demand the ministries they want.
“We have no real alternatives,” a Likud official said. “There are no other right-wing parties to negotiate with. The chance of bringing Zionist Union into the coalition based on the existing fundamentals are slight.”
One Likud official said he believed Lieberman’s decision was still reversible if an agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu included clauses to moderate the agreements with the ultra-Orthodox parties and give Lieberman’s party the chance to push through key bills. This legislation includes issues such as the death penalty for terrorists and pension arrangements for immigrants.
Another possibility is to try to lure the hawkish faction of Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party. In such a scenario, MKs Shay Piron, Meir Cohen, Mickey Levy and Aliza Lavie would be brought into the government, though the chances of this move are considered low.
With Lieberman gone, at least four politicians are likely to demand the Foreign Ministry.The first, Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, said last week he was now keen to become education minister, a position he was expected to have to settle for.
Three Likud members who have been government ministers are expected to seek the foreign minister’s post: Yuval Steinitz, Tzachi Hanegbi and Gilad Erdan. Erdan had been considering combining the Interior Ministry and Public Security Ministry posts.