Lieberman Says Will Join Coalition if Demands on Death Penalty, Defense Portfolio Are Met

Netanyahu invites Lieberman to an urgent meeting shortly after the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman tells reporters that his party has yet to receive an official offer to join the government.

Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Olivier Fitoussi

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday that his party could well leave the opposition and join the government if acceptable conditions are offered.

The party is in opposition not because it didn't get offers but because of its principles, Lieberman said at a press conference at the Knesset.

"We were offered two distinguished ministries before the present government was formed, and we refused. As far as I'm concerned, nothing has changed," Lieberman said – but then qualified that sitting in opposition is not a personal matter. "If our main issues are resolved, then we could talk."

Shortly after Lieberman made his remarks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the MK and invited him to an urgent meeting. The two are set to meet at 4 P.M. Wednesday at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem. 

In the press conference, Lieberman said reports that Yisrael Beiteinu was offered the defense portfolio, or the immigrant absorption portfolio, or legislation on death penalty to terrorists are one thing – "but in practice, we have not heard anything official." He added that a lot of people seem to be trying to broker a deal to further their own interests. "Negotiations should not be handled secretly or through envoys," he said. "They should be held openly, with full transparency."

No, he had not met with Netanyahu in the last week, Liberman said. "Our conditions are known and clear," he said. "If as I hear, there is will to reform pension security, that is a respectable offer."

He even hinted that his party might be prepared to compromise on certain issues – "on state and religion, we have clear demands, but it is clear to us that the ultra-Orthodox parties are part of the coalition."

Likud sources said on Tuesday that efforts to rope Yisrael Beiteinu into the coalition had been fruitless so far. A top Likud source said in an official comment that Lieberman "hadn't even answered the proposal" and is hindering expansion of the Likud-led coalition. The purpose of this broadside is evidently to explain to right-wing voters why exactly Netanyahu is pursuing a coalition with a left-leaning party (Zionist Union ) despite an explicit past vow not to do so.

Sources in Yisrael Beiteinu say the prime minister's proposal to name Avigdor Liberman minister of defense is spin. "The briefings from the Prime Minister's Office are also spin, one of many spins we have been seeing in recent days. It is an attempt to whitewash bringing the Zionist Union into the government, flouting promises to voters before the election." Apropos of which, Liberman explicitly told reporters on Wednesday that "We have no intention of whitewashing the entry of Labor [the base of the Zionist Union] into the coalition."

Should Yisrael Beiteinu remain in the opposition, Lieberman said, the party "would certainly not support [Join List Chairman Ayman] Odeh as opposition leader. It isn't clear who is in opposition any more."

Reacting to the remarks, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who has been tasked by the prime minister to manage coalition talks, called on Lieberman to "complete the negotiations today."

"The immense effort we have been making for months to get Lieberman to agree to join the government has succeeded," Levin said. "I intend to conduct genuine and quick negotiations and to complete them without delay. There is no justification for Yisrael Beiteinu to remain outside the government, and I believe we can complete the talks within hours."

Other Likud ministers joined Levin in expressing support for accelerated coalition talks with Yisrael Beiteinu

Absorption Minister Elkin called on Netanyahu to seriously look into the move. "We would do better to build a stable government with the national camp, as we promised the voter, than to build an ersatz national unity government that wouldn't be stable and would hurt the Likud and the national camp in general, and the Israeli public's belief in the political system."

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz called Yisrael Beiteinu "a natural partner to a government led by Likud."