Lieberman Rules Out Joining Netanyahu Government, Says Israel Headed for Third Election

Reneging on threats he made to join a right-wing coalition, kingmaker Lieberman announces his decision and warns of a tough campaign full of incitement

Avigdor Lieberman addressing his Knesset faction.
Ohad Zwigenberg

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman made it clear Thursday that he has no intention to have his party join a narrow, right-wing government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lieberman, whose party with its eight seats effectively holds the balance of power in efforts to form a coalition, made these comments only two days after he threatened Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz that he would join a Netanyahu government. 

>> Read more: After months of negotiations, Gantz believes Netanyahu less than ever The Lieberman framework: Strong leader, weak minorities | Analysis

In an interview with the Yedioth Aharonoth daily, Lieberman said Kahol Lavan "has made a strategic decision not to go for [a] unity" government with Netanyahu's Likud, referring to the party's failure to reach an agreement with Netanyahu's Likud in the latest round of negotiations.

On Tuesday, Lieberman told Gantz that he would join a narrow right-wing government led by Netanyahu if Kahol Lavan didn't agree to let Netanyahu serve as prime minster before Gantz in a unity government.

Kahol Lavan and Likud would be the major coalition partners in such a government and would enter into a rotation arrangement in which one would serve as prime minister for a set period and be followed by the other. Netanyahu has been insisting on going first.

Lieberman said his remarks Tuesday were meant to apply pressure on Gantz about a week before the law requires a third round of elections if a government isn't formed. In an Army Radio interview Thursday, Lieberman said: "We are headed toward a very tough election campaign, very stormy, and no one knows what level of cursing and incitement we will reach in the coming campaign."

At this stage, Lieberman said, there is no prospect of a unity government between Netanyahu's Likud and Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party and there is no point in supporting a specific candidate for prime minister "unless in the end you see a Hanukkah miracle."

If Netanyahu had really wanted to form a narrow coalition government, he would have made efforts to do so and extract concessions from the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Lieberman claimed. With regard to Gantz, he said: "All of the party heads have told him – we are guarantors [that Netanayhu would keep his promise in a rotation agreement]. We would see to it to obtain all of the consents. If Netanyahu violates them, we will leave him on the sidelines and proceed ahead with you."

"From Yisrael Beiteinu's perspective," Lieberman added, "what would be most valuable politically is going into a narrow coalition with Netanyahu. I would be appointed [deputy] prime minister, get the defense minister's portfolio, two cabinet positions of our choice. From our standpoint, that's the best [option] there is, but from the standpoint of the State of Israel, it's the worst."