Israel Election: Gantz Meets for Coalition Talks With Lieberman

Kahol Lavan also to discuss forming minority government with support of Arab-majority Joint List

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Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman hosting a cultural event, Israel, December 20, 2019
Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman hosting a cultural event, Israel, December 20, 2019Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Kahol Lavan head Benny Gantz is meeting Monday with Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman for coalition talks.

Bibi limps to election 'victory.' But he didn't winCredit: Haaretz Weekly Podcast

Sources in Yisrael Beiteinu described the planned meeting as a “decisive” one, after which Lieberman and the party’s MKs will decide whether to recommend to the president that Gantz be the one to form the next government.

Kahol Lavan confirmed Sunday night that party representatives were in contact with Yisrael Beiteinu and the Joint List over efforts to form a minority government with their support.

According to inside sources, Kahol Lavan officials believe that their own MKs, Yoaz Handel and Zvi Hauser, members of the right-wing Telem party, one of Kahol Lavan’s components, will thwart the creation of a minority government supported by the Joint List. It is believed that the two will work to promote a unity government with Likud immediately following the approval of the proposed law preventing Netanyahu from forming the next government, were it to pass.

Nevetheless, Kahol Lavan will continue to promote the formation of a minority government over the possibility of a unity government. According to a party official, "the prospect of forming a unity government with Likud is low and is based on a long list of conditions that will have to be met."

News of a meeting between Hauser, Hendel and Telem Chairman Moshe Ya’alon, gives further credence to the theory that the effort to form a narrow government would move ahead. Earlier Sunday Ya’alon hinted to Israel Channel 12 News that Hauser and Hendel would abide by any decision Kahol Lavan made. “What Kahol Lavan decides will be implemented,” Ya’alon said.

Sources in Kahol Lavan said Sunday that the party will not seek to replace Yuli Edelstein as Knesset speaker immediately after the new Knesset is sworn in next week, but to wait until the coalition negotiations advance. Lieberman said earlier that he will decide on whether to move to replace Edelstein only after President Reuven Rivlin decides whom to task with forming the next government.

Lieberman and Gantz share one fundamental aim – to force Benjamin Netanyahu out of the Prime Minister’s Office. Both support passing legislation that would ban an MK who is under indictment from serving as prime minister. If Netanyahu cannot be prime minister, he reverts to being an ordinary MK who would have to resign from the Knesset due to the indictments against him.

However, the two party leaders differ on how to go about it: While Kahol Lavan prefers that such a law apply only to the next Knesset, to prevent complaints about retroactive legislation that is clearly aimed at a specific person, a Yisrael Beiteinu source insisted that his party wants the law apply to the formation of this new government. Either way, Edelstein would have to be replaced as speaker for such legislation to pass, since he is loyal to Netanyahu and will not facilitate it.

Yisrael Beiteinu made it clear that progress in the talks between the two parties would be gradual and orderly. “We will not declare publicly that we support Gantz until the two meet and we see if there’s what to talk about,” a party source said. “We will not decide on removing Edelstein before we know if Gantz has enough recommendations to the president to be able to form the government. If Gantz doesn’t get the mandate, what’s the point of removing Edelstein?”

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz at a party meeting, Tel Aviv, December 12, 2019Credit: Moti Milrod

Still, it isn’t clear whether Lieberman will simply accept a government that has the outside support of the Joint List or whether he will seek to form a unity government once Netanyahu has been removed.

Lieberman himself is remaining vague and even his party colleagues aren’t certain what his position is. So far Lieberman has not denied a report by Channel 12 that his efforts to halt Netanyahu’s rule stem from a personal desire for revenge, since he believes Netanyahu is behind efforts to implicate his children in wrongdoing.

Some in Kahol Lavan interpret that report as meaning that Lieberman would return to the right as soon as Netanyahu is forced out of politics. Kahol Lavan officials also suspect that Lieberman would prefer a unity government without Netanyahu to a government relies on the support of Arab MKs.

Lieberman and Gantz came to a preliminary understanding on social media on Sunday, in an exchange that makes it clear that the ultra-Orthodox parties will not be part of the coalition that Gantz and Lieberman may form.

Lieberman posted his demands on Facebook, which included an allowance totaling 70 percent of the minimum wage for all elderly living on guaranteed income allowances and old age pensions; transferring the decision-making on whether public transportation and businesses can operate on Shabbat to local governments; passage of a law introduced previously introduced on the drafting of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students; legalizing civil marriage; and allowing municipal rabbis to form their own rabbinical courts to perform conversions.

In his response, Gantz tweeted, “Agreed. We need to move forward.” Lieberman’s list did not include any clauses on diplomatic issues or the approach to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which could end up being significant points of contention between the two parties. Nor did Lieberman state that he would refuse to be part of a government that included the Joint List.

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