Finance Minister Won't Serve Another Term in Narrow-majority Netanyahu Government

The Kulanu chairman and Avigdor Lieberman deny they're conspiring against Netanyahu, but they're taking a hard line in the coalition talks

Moshe Kahlon speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, May 5, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon says he will not serve as finance minister in a government based on only 60 of the Knesset’s 120 members, one without Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, political sources said Wednesday.

Kahlon reportedly says such a government would be vulnerable to extortion, a difficult position particularly for the cabinet member tasked with protecting the state coffers against the demands of the parties in the governing coalition.

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Kahlon also reiterated that he would sign a coalition agreement only after he saw all the financial commitments made to the other partners, and only after he reached an agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on what would awarded.

Kahlon and Lieberman deny that they have conspired to prevent Netanyahu from forming a new government, but their positions complement each other and are making the prime minister’s task more difficult.

Lieberman presented Netanyahu with an ultimatum this week asking for full consent to all of Yisrael Beiteinu’s conditions, otherwise the right-wing party would stay in the opposition.

Netanyahu reportedly believes that Lieberman is taking a hard line because in the two men’s three meetings since the April 9 election, Netanyahu did not agree to significantly change his Gaza policy, as demanded by Lieberman, a candidate to become defense minister in the next government. Lieberman has taken a harder line on Gaza than Netanyahu.

According to political sources, Netanyahu has expressed frustration about Lieberman’s stubbornness. The Soviet-born politician, a former foreign minister and defense minister under Netanyahu, reportedly refuses to negotiate over his demands, which include the drafting of ultra-Orthodox Jews into the army.

According to the sources, Lieberman was asked this week about his dispute with Netanyahu on Gaza and the nature of any future clash with Hamas and the other factions in Gaza, but he refused to give details. He said the army has detailed plans that Netanyahu is familiar with, adding that now is the time to execute these plans.

Lieberman also commented on the disagreements over the conscription bill and the various proposals that have been mooted for this issue, such as establishing yet another committee to find a compromise.

“I don’t pay twice for the same goods,” Lieberman said. “The bill passed its first vote in the last Knesset. It was formulated after all the committees discussed all the options. The ultra-Orthodox were in favor of it passing.”

Lieberman reportedly wants all issues to be fully sorted out “with everything on the record, fully transparent and without any games” before the next cabinet is sworn in.