Lieberman: Alternative Right-wing Government Possible Without Netanyahu

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman launches attack on prime minister and pretty much everyone else on the political spectrum in quadrennial party address.

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman speaking at a press conference.
Olivier Fitoussi

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman has slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security policies and said it was possible to form an alternative right-wing government without Netanyahu leading it.

Speaking at his party’s quadrennial convention in Jerusalem on Thursday evening, Lieberman also took Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Knesset members from the Joint Arab List and ultra-Orthodox parties to task, in an aggressive speech reflecting his party’s recent upswing in opinion polls.

“I am pleased this understanding that there is an alternative right-wing government without Netanyahu is permeating more and more strongly, and is also spreading in the ranks of Likud,” he told party members, referencing the prime minister’s party. “Believe me, Likud cabinet ministers and Knesset members and Likud activists are speaking to me more than with the chairman of their party.”

Lieberman also unveiled his party’s new slogan, “Only Lieberman will bring security,” which replaces “One’s word is one’s word” and “Only Lieberman understand Arabic” from previous campaigns.

“I’m telling you, Mr. Prime Minister, we are not relying on you,” Lieberman declared. “In the next election campaign, we will also not commit in advance to supporting you as prime minister,” he added.

He also accused the premier of stealing the ballots of right-wing voters for the benefit of what he dubbed a “leftist” security agenda. “Netanyahu has no connection with either the right or the ‘national camp,’” Lieberman said, adding that the man who supported the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and voted in favor of it in the Knesset “is the one taking votes from the right and leading a left-wing policy.

“Yisrael Beiteinu will never be part of a coalition of the left and you will never hear us [utter] the sentence, ‘What you see from here, you don’t see from there’” – a reference to the concept that those with responsibility to govern have a different perspective.

His party’s improved polling spurred Lieberman to attack the existing coalition. “I am pleased people are no longer asking, ‘Why didn’t you join this government?’ Because today, you no longer have to explain,” he said, before going on to delineate the problems.

“The terrorism that has been going on for five months, and which has cost the lives of more than 30 people, with hundreds of wounded; the reconstruction of attack tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory; the inability of the government to achieve an agreement with the United States on the size of security compensation, following the signing of the [nuclear] agreement with Iran; and the continued increase in the price of housing.” He also cited the repeal of the law that was designed to boost the numbers of ultra-Orthodox men being drafted into the army.

Lieberman dubbed as “hysterical” Netanyahu’s statement on Election Day last year that Arab voters were “streaming to the polls in droves.” He noted that once Netanyahu was reelected prime minister, he soon promoted a five-year plan to invest 15 billion shekels ($3.75 billion) in Arab communities.

In addition, Lieberman claimed that Netanyahu has sold his soul to two ultra-Orthodox parties (United Torah Judaism and Shas). “I’m not sure everyone is aware of the depth of the commitment Netanyahu has to the ultra-Orthodox parties,” he said. “When we went to the president after the election, we recommended Netanyahu as the candidate to form the government without preconditions. I said I would not sign a coalition agreement before I saw the agreement with the ultra-Orthodox. And when I saw the agreement, I understood that his understandings with the ultra-Orthodox parties were not only regarding the [current] 20th Knesset, but also the 21st Knesset, the 22nd Knesset, and so forth.

“And believe me,” he continued, “from his viewpoint he intends to remain in the political system until 2069. The significance of this is that in every future coalition, the first partners are the ultra-Orthodox parties – and they will always have priority over any other party, including veto power. Netanyahu will not forgo the ultra-Orthodox parties in any future arrangement and will always surrender to their demands,” Lieberman stated.

The Yisrael Beiteinu chairman also reiterated his own security doctrine: a return to targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders; expulsion of the families of terrorists to the Gaza Strip; and, if necessary, a declaration of a state of emergency in Israel similar to the declaration in France following the terrorist attacks in Paris last November.

Responding to Lieberman’s remarks, a Likud spokesperson said, “For anyone who still had doubts regarding Lieberman’s position on the political map, they received eternal proof on Thursday evening. All of Lieberman’s pathetic slogans and pathetic excuses can’t hide the fact that is clear to everyone: Contrary to his explicit promises, he has betrayed the voters on the right and is now linking up with the left, with the goal of bringing down the right-wing government. Everything else is chatter and excuses designed to cover the fact that everyone understands this. It looks like preparations for Purim, in which [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid is disguised as a centrist and Lieberman is disguised as a right-winger. The public fully understands that Lieberman is an opportunist disguised as a right-winger, just as Lapid heads a left-wing party disguised as centrist.”