WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweet supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his negotiations to form a governing coalition was described as “unprecedented” by experts and former U.S. officials on Monday.
Trump expressed his support for Netanyahu on Twitter while the prime minister was meeting with former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said his Yisrael Beiteinu party would not join a government led by Netanyahu with the ultra-Orthodox parties, which he called a “halakha government,” referring to Jewish religious law.
“Hoping things will work out with Israel’s coalition formation and Bibi and I can continue to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever,” Trump tweeted.
Giving his statement to the press on Monday evening after the Knesset passed the first vote to dissolve itself, Netanyahu quoted U.S. President Donald Trump’s support for him, saying that the two have “a lot to do.”
Shalom Lipner, a former official at the Prime Minister’s Office who served under different prime ministers for two decades, called Trump’s intervention “unseemly.” He also said that while previous U.S. presidents also intervened in Israeli politics, Trump’s aid to Netanyahu “takes it to a whole new level.”
David Makovsky, an expert on Israeli politics and the peace process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, offered a similar conclusion. He called Trump’s tweet “extraordinary” and noted that “even [Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush] Jim Baker, assailed by many Israelis, went mum for three months (!) in 1990” until then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir managed to form a coalition.”
Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, called Trump’s intervention “unprecedented interference in Israel's democracy, plain and simple. The U.S. president should respect Israel’s coalition negotiations, not meddle.”
Earlier Monday, the Israeli Knesset passed a bill to dissolve itself in a preliminary reading. It remains unclear whether the coalition really wants a new election or whether the bill is merely an attempt to pressure its warring members into the compromises needed to form a new government.
If the dispute hasn’t been resolved by then, the bill may well pass the two further required votes on Wednesday, leading Israel to another snap election.
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Lieberman and Netanyahu met during the Knesset vote on Monday, but the meeting did not result in any agreements.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to convince Lieberman to avoid another election,” said Netanyahu in a press conference. “The reality is that we must be responsible and form a government immediately.”