Lieberman Pushing for Unity Despite Risk

Lieberman says he'll continue to work for unity gov't, & has meetings planned with Likud and Kadima. He risks Likud-Kadima inviting Shas, however.

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Hillel Fendel,

A. Lieberman playing a dangerous game
A. Lieberman playing a dangerous game

After Avigdor Lieberman effectively voided any chances that President Shimon Peres would choose Tzipi Livni of Kadima to form the next government, Lieberman told reporters he was quite serious about his desire for a unity government of Likud-Kadima-Yisrael Beiteinu - and did not relate to the danger that a national unity government might, in the end, include Shas and not his own party.


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“We brought two recommendations, not just one,” he said at a press conference right after his meeting with Peres. With the party’s #2 and #3 candidates standing at his side – Uzi Landau and Stas Misezhnikov, neither of whom knew what Lieberman would tell Peres until shortly before he told him – Lieberman continued:

“First, we recommended that Binyamin Netanyahu be the next Prime Minister of Israel, and secondly, that it be a three-way government of the big three parties: Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu. We think that this is the right combination, in light of the challenges from within and without. Everyone [Netanyahu and Livni –ed.] must rise above themselves, and give up some of their ambitions, prestige and dreams. There is no other way. A government of six parties and 65 MKs will be just a survival government that will have to fight every day or every week for every single vote. It will not be able to lead any serious moves.

“Today, with a new administration in the U.S., and with Iran continuing quickly with its nuclear plans, and with rockets exploding in Israel every day, and after long election campaigns both nationally and in the municipalities, what we need is stability. After we form a 3-party government, whoever wants to join can do so.”
A reporter interrupted and asked if he could promise not to join a “narrow” – non-unity – government; Lieberman pointedly ignored him, and continued:
“We have received responses on our demands from the two big parties, but they were not satisfactory. We expect a clear commitment from Kadima for legislation giving real preference for army veterans in issues such as university studies, public service jobs, and land allotment.

“And regarding the Likud, we will not agree that issues such as changing the system of government or civil marriages be contingent on the unanimous consent of all coalition partners. That is a recipe for keeping everything mired forever. We need a breakthrough in these areas… We cannot run a country according to the Atra Kadisha and we will not have [its director] Rav Shmiddel dictating moves [The Atra Kadisha is a hareidi-religious organization that attempts to ensure that ancient Jewish cemeteries are not desecrated by construction -ed.]. It cannot be that the hospital in Ashkelon cannot build a rocket-proof emergency room, despite a Chief Rabbinate ruling permitting it. We cannot accept that Rabbi Druckman’s conversions will be nullified nine years retroactively. We respect and are in favor of tradition, not like the [now-defunct anti-religious] Shinui party, but a State must respect its institutions and must follow the Chief Rabbinate and not all sorts of small extremist streams. We therefore expect better answers from the two parties. I am now starting a series of intensive meetings in order to promote this three-way government.”
Lieberman refused to take questions.

Earlier, he emphasized to President Peres his total opposition to a rotation government. Ironically, Israel’s only previous rotation agreement featured Peres himself; in 1984, he and Yitzchak Shamir of the Likud agreed to this arrangement, with Peres serving for two years, followed by Shamir for two years.

Lieberman also made it clear that Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu must come before the nationalist/religious parties: “You can’t first make a narrow government and then expand it. You have to first form a broad government. Netanyahu has to get used to this idea, and Livni has to get used to the idea that there will be no rotation.”

Lieberman Risks Being Replaced by Shas
Lieberman ignored the dangers that this idea holds for him. If the Likud and Kadima agree - which currently does not appear likely - it could very well be that Netanyahu will then turn to Shas, and not Lieberman, giving him a 66-seat majority.

Livni to be Pressured
Peres is expected to invite Netanyahu and Livni to his office on Friday, in an attempt to convince them to agree to sit together in a unity government. Livni has already rejected such an arrangement, saying, “I have a path, and I will be the one to lead it, wherever I am.”  She is expected, however, to be heavily pressured by the media and by some leading members within her party to change her mind.

11 Out of 12
MK Gideon Saar, #2 in the Likud according to the party’s primaries four months ago, said, “Eleven out of the twelve Knesset parties refused to recommend Livni for the post of Prime Minister, making it clear beyond any doubt that the only one who can form a government is Binyamin Netanyahu.” Only Kadima recommended Livni; Meretz, Labor, and the Arab parties refused to recommend anyone.

Shas, United Torah Judaism, National Union and the Jewish Home, in addition to the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, have recommended or will recommend Netanyahu, giving him the support of 65 MKs.

Labor to Opposition
The Labor Party announced on Thursday morning that it had made a final decision to remain in the Opposition for the coming Knesset term. It plummeted in the last elections from 19 to 13 Knesset seats. “Whoever said we made mistakes is right,” party leader Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “but whoever eulogizes us is wrong. The Labor Party has deep roots and tradition, and I plan to lead the party back to the center of the political map.”