Replacing Netanyahu Is Critical, but Not by Working With 'Racist' Lieberman, Arab Lawmakers Say

Netanyahu loyalists vow to never break the right-wing bloc ■ Joint List members say they refuse to topple Netanyahu at cost of nurturing Lieberman

Ayman Odeh, speaks alongside other Joint List leaders, following his consultation with President Rivlin, September 22, 2019.
Menahem Kahana,AP

The ultimatum set before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz by Avigdor Lieberman was met with fierce opposition on both sides of the political spectrum on Sunday, as right-wingers defied the Yisrael Beiteinu leader's call to dismantle their bloc and Arab lawmakers pushed back against the idea of cooperating with the ultra-nationalist Lieberman.

Netanyahu said on Sunday that he is willing to meet with Lieberman this week, regardless of the ultimatum. "Lieberman is striving to form a minority government of the left that will be backed by Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, and will depend on them every day, and in everything," said Netanyahu. He also added that he still hopes to hear Lieberman clearly state his opposition of a coalition with the Joint List.  

"Lieberman seems to be in tune with the Joint List and with Kahol Lavan, and thus the ultimatum he gave to both parties…is actually an ultimatum for Likud only," said Netanyahu. 

Netanyahu added that Lieberman "clearly states" that he will not allow Likud to form a narrow government with Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina, and will vote against it. However, "he does not say to Kahol Lavan that he will vote against them if they attempt to form a government with the support of the Joint List," he adds.  

Israel Culture Minister Miri Regev and Communications Minister David Amsalem expressed strong opposition against breaking the right-wing bloc for the sake of forming a unity government with opposition head Benny Gantz. 

The ministers threw their full weight against the proposal in an interview with public broadcaster Kan on Sunday, in the wake of Lieberman's ultimatum on Saturday that if either Netanyahu or Gantz don't agree on unity terms, he'll back the other candidate.

The main pillars of the unity proposal being promoted by President Reuven Rivlin is for Gantz to let Netanyahu go first as prime minister as part of a rotation agreement, and for Netanyahu to break the bloc and leave behind his right-wing allies.

"This is not viable, no way this can be an option," Amsalem said about the possibility of breaking the bloc. "We are with the Haredis since almost 40 years, we agree with them on the majority of issues for the State of Israel, share much of the same ideology and values, are we supposed to leave them behind because they do not suit Lieberman and Gantz's plans?"

Regev, on her part, said: "We are going as a bloc just like Kahol Lavan is going as a bloc. Netanyahu wants a unity government but would never break the bloc, not even with his back to the wall."

The culture minister claimed Lieberman is "pushing for a left-wing minority government with the support of the Arab parties, which is dangerous for Israel." 

Ahmad Tibi, one of the leaders of the Joint List, denied on Twitter that the Arab-majority alliance is mulling separation from its Balad faction, which resists the idea of entering a government with Gantz. Ofer Cassif, a Jewish representative from the Hadash party, which is part of the Joint List, ruled out any political cooperation with Lieberman on Twitter.

"Completely agree with Aida Touma-Sliman," he said referring to a fellow Hadash lawmaker, "Overthrowing the racist Netanyahu is a necessity, but not at the cost of nurturing another racist who is not less bad."

Balad's chairman, Mtanes Shehadeh, said on Sunday that his party's stance is clear. "We will not be part of a Kahol Lavan government. Our assessment is that Gantz and Kahol Lavan want a national unity government and are using the Joint List in order to threaten Likud and the rest of the right-wing parties."

However, Shehadeh added that if Gantz approached the Joint List with intent to negotiate entering a coalition, the slate would do so, but would "never sit in a government ruled by Lieberman, who coined the term 'no citizenship without loyalty.'"

Earlier on Friday, Netanyahu announced Bennett would take up the defense portfolio. Ayelet Shaked, his Hayamin Hehadash co-leader, said Netanyahu had offered them to either take the agriculture and the diaspora ministries, or the more prestigious defense ministry only. 

Also on Sunday, Israel's Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel notified Netanyahu of his resignation from government. Ariel lost the leadership contest for the National Union Party to Bezalel Smotrich in January, and did not run for the Knesset April. Ariel was first elected as a member of Knesset in 2001 and served as minister of construction between 2013 and 2015 before becoming minister of agriculture.