Netanyahu Aims for Narrow Coalition as Talks Hit Snag

Lieberman says he would vote against a 60-seat government: 'It's an ultra-Orthodox government that, instead of preserving Israel as a Jewish nation, will turn it into a halakha state'

File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enters the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, May 20, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the heads of the coalition government Thursday and decided to create a narrow coalition of only 60 seats, but called on Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman to "stand by his obligation to the voters" and join the coalition, in order to create a solid majority.

Lieberman responded, saying that he would vote against a narrow coalition. "The moment the ultra-Orthodox parties put aside their objections to the conscription law, which goes against previous agreements, a new government will be established," a statement by Yisrael Beiteinu said.

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"A 60 seat government isn't a right-wing coalition," the statement said, "It's an ultra-Orthodox government that, instead of preserving Israel as a Jewish nation, will turn it into a halakha state. Therefore, Yisrael Beiteinu sharply objects to a halakha government, a 60 seat government."

The leaders of the coalition parties met on Thursday and declared that they would form a coalition with or without Lieberman, but called on Lieberman "to stand by his obligation to his voters and join the right-wing government without delay - and not to help bring about a left-wing government."

Avigdor Lieberman speaks at a Yisrael Beiteinu party meeting, Jerusalem, April 30, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Following reports that progress has frozen in negotiations between the two men, Netanyahu assailed Lieberman, blaming him for the breakdown of negotiations to form a right-wing coalition and accusing him of bringing about a left-wing government instead.

“Lieberman promised his voters that he’d support establishing a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu,” the prime minister’s Likud party said in a statement. “Now, he’s using all kinds of excuses to prevent this government’s establishment, which is liable to lead to the establishment of a left-wing government.”

Over the past three weeks, there has been no progress whatsoever in the negotiations between Lieberman and Netanyahu. On Thursday, they met again, but the talks blew up over Lieberman’s insistence that not so much as a comma be changed in the conscription bill he drafted, together with the defense establishment, during the last government.

Netanyahu then canceled his scheduled negotiating session with the Union of Right-Wing parties and summoned Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, his chief negotiator, for consultations. Netanyahu and Levin decided to try to create public pressure on Lieberman from his voters and from right-wing voters in general.

Without Lieberman, Netanyahu would have just 60 Knesset members in his governing coalition, as he has despaired of the possibility of persuading some lawmakers to desert from the opposition Kahol Lavan party.

By law, if Netanyahu fails to form a coalition, President Reuven Rivlin will hold consultations with the heads of all the parties. Following these consultations, he can either task another member of Knesset with trying to form a government or recommend new elections.