Israeli gov’t hangs in air as Liberman-Netanyahu meeting fruitless; Liberman still rejects ‘messianics’

Neither side appears willing to compromise enough on the matter of forming a national unity government.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A meeting on Thursday morning between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman ended in a stalemate, leaving the formation of a new government still hanging in the air more than two weeks after a second parliamentary election in less than six months.

“No breakthrough was achieved,” the Likud party said in a statement following the meeting, which was said to have lasted less than an hour.

Since both sides had insisted beforehand that they would not budge from their respective positions in the negotiations, the fact that no compromise was reached was not considered a surprise.

Netanyahu is standing firm that the entire right-wing bloc has to be part of a unity government, which includes the Haredi Orthodox and national religious parties. Liberman, for his part, totally rejects including the ultra-Orthodox religious and “messianic” parties, as he calls Yemina, in the grand coalition he envisions with the Likud, Blue and White, and his own eight-member parliamentary faction.

Netanyahu invited Liberman to hold the meeting after the Israel Beytenu chairman stated on Wednesday that his party would submit its own proposal for a national unity government if current talks between Netanyahu’s Likud and Blue and White, headed by MK Benny Gantz, do not bear fruit in the coming week.

Israel Beytenu’s post-meeting statement said that Liberman had reiterated that a unity government was “the call of the hour,” as a third election due to the inability to form a new government coalition “would [still] not change the political landscape in a meaningful way.”

He also argued that formulating a joint set of basic policy guidelines with Blue and White had to come before discussions of a possible rotation of prime ministers.

However, the exact parameters of such a rotation is a large sticking point in the negotiations.

Interviewed on Kan public radio before the 22nd Knesset was inaugurated on Thursday, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein said that the prime minister had consented to temporarily step down should his legal team fail to head off any of the indictments they are currently contesting in pre-trial hearings with the attorney general.

“Netanyahu agreed to take a leadership step that isn’t simple — to take a leave of absence in order to establish a government,” Edelstein said.

It was President Rivlin’s idea that Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Gantz would each serve two years as head of a unity government, but if Netanyahu was formally charged in any of the three corruption cases pending against him, Gantz would become an interim prime minister with the full legal authority of a regular prime minister.

Likud negotiators have said that Gantz has not accepted this proposal because of pressure from his number two, Yair Lapid, who had an agreement with Gantz to rotate the prime ministership between the two if Blue and White would be able to form a government itself.