Avigdor Liberman details conditions for joining gov't
Avigdor Liberman details conditions for joining gov'tEliran Aharon

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman has reacted to reports he rejected a generous offer to enter the coalition government, dismissing claims he was offered the defense ministry and a chance to implement his party's election pledge to impose a death penalty for terrorist murderers.

At the same time, however, Liberman for the first time publicly declared his openness to joining Binyamin Netanyahu's government - as long as three key conditions would be met.

Those conditions, he told reporters at a press conference Wednesday morning, are: the defense ministry, the imposition of the death penalty for terrorist murderers, and pension reforms.

Liberman also struck back at claims he was staying in the opposition purely in order to harm his political rival Netanyahu.

"We never ruled out entering the government - but on our terms," he insisted, while qualifying that he would be willing to compromise on certain issues such as those pertaining to religion and state - policies the haredi parties currently sitting in the coalition would find impossible to stomach.

"This is not personal," he continued, asserting that he was acting purely "for the good of the country."

"I heard many times in the media that they offered us (the) defense (ministry) and the death penalty... we never heard any such offer," Liberman claimed.

If such an offer were to be made though, his party would certainly consider them, he added.

"If it is true that they are offering (the) defense (ministry), the death penalty and pension reform, that is indeed a respectable offer, and there is something to talk about. But we won't conduct negotiations in the dead of night, or via secret deals.

"The prime minister has my phone number... we haven't ruled out anything, but it needs to be serious. The prime minister hasn't called me - our conditions are clear and well known."

In recent weeks Netanyahu has intensified efforts to expand his government's wafer-thin majority of 61 MKs in the 120-seat Knesset - a perilously narrow majority which has often hamstrung the government's ability to legislate, and sometimes seen it held hostage to rogue, backbench government MKs.

Talks with the left-wing Zionist Union party - which holds 24 seats - have been ongoing but have faced fierce opposition from both Netanyahu's Jewish Home party coalition partners, as well as from many MKs within his own Likud party. Many on the left flank of the Labor party - which together with Hatnua makes up the Zionist Union - are also opposed to joining a "right-wing government."

Despite that opposition, the two are reportedly edging closer towards a deal.

Liberman's six-seat Yisrael Beytenu party would give a more modest - but still very much welcome - increase to the government's majority. However, it would also rule out threats by the eight-seat Jewish Home party to bolt the coalition if the Zionist Union receives its terms for joining the government.

Liberman - a former ally of Netanyahu - has since last year's elections positioned himself as a right-wing alternative to the Likud, dramatically turning down an offer to join the government during initial coalition negotiations in 2015.