Lieberman’s Right-wing Party May Join Government on Sunday

Lieberman might forego his demand to move ahead legislation for the death penalty, or he may demand that it apply only in military courts; Likud source expresses surprise at ‘low cost’ demanded by Yisrael Beiteinu to enter coalition.

Avigdor Lieberman
Ilan Assayag

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman may sign the coalition agreement on Sunday that would bring the latter’s right-wing party into the government.

The negotiating teams are waiting for decisions from the Finance Ministry regarding one of Yisrael Beiteinu’s demands: The funding of a pension program aimed at immigrants from the former Soviet Union, which the parties have already agreed on.

No decision has been made on whether to include the issue of the death penalty for terrorists in the agreement. According to a source involved in negotiations, Lieberman might forego his demand to move ahead legislation for the death penalty, or he may demand that it apply only in military courts.

If it is to be applied only to military courts, the death penalty would not be invoked if a regular majority of judges on a given bench approve it – as the law currently states – but only if approved by an absolute majority of the bench.

The original death penalty bill Lieberman promoted as part of his election campaign stated that the death penalty would apply to terrorist murderers convicted in Israeli courts.

Sources in Likud said they were surprised at the low cost of Lieberman’s entry into the coalition, in terms of funding and legislation demands. Lieberman will assume control of the Defense Ministry this week.

Lieberman met separately with Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Friday to iron out the pensions issue. Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu said any problems can be resolved.

Lieberman had already relented on all his demands regarding legislation concerning religion and state, so as not to face off against the ultra-Orthodox parties within the coalition. These demands had included a reform of the military draft, of conversion and civil marriage.

Lieberman’s demand for better pensions for immigrants from the former Soviet Union was to have been met even if he didn’t enter the coalition, as part of Netanyahu’s efforts to garner Yisrael Beiteinu’s support for the budget.

MK Orli Levi-Abekasis (Yisrael Beiteinu) said on Saturday she was surprised to learn that Lieberman had not added significant demands on socioeconomic issues as a condition for entering the coalition. She said Lieberman had not reported to her on the talks.

Speaking on Channel 2’s “Meet the Press,” Levi-Abekasis said, “The intention was that I wouldn’t know ahead of time, so I wouldn’t make demands for a strong stand on social issues.”

She added that Lieberman had called her on Wednesday evening, after he had already agreed to enter the coalition, and told her “what we wanted and what we got. It was then l realized that [Lieberman] didn’t want the things I had demanded. I had put these issues on the table.”

Levi-Abekasis added, “I am number 2. It is inconceivable that negotiations will take place and I am excluded from them. In the negotiations that took place after the election, I presented some of the same demands. This time, we did not demand and did not insist.” Therefore, Levi-Abekasis said, the faction’s ability to change things from within the government has been compromised.