A newly expanded government coalition appeared imminent on Wednesday night after it was announced that Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman had accepted an offer from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to become Defense Minister.
The two agreed to designate negotiating teams to finalize terms for an expanded coalition with the aim of concluding the talks by Friday morning.
The current Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, was informed by Netanyahu of the decision in a phone call on Wednesday.
Jewish Home MK’s were quoted in the media as welcoming the change. “Yaalon is going, and that’s good. This has been a year of terrible damage to the IDF. Yaalon must go home, and now he’s going,” one MK was quoted as saying by Ynet.
Yisrael Beytenu will also take over the immigrant absorption portfolio
After the two met on Wednesday, the Likud issued a statement saying, “The meeting was business-oriented and it was held in a positive atmosphere. The prime minister is updating the heads of the coalition partners on the details.”
Until now, Liberman has been deriding talk of offers from Netanyahu as merely “spin,” but holding the door open for a “serious offer.” That offer apparently came on Wednesday in the form of defense portfolio and a promise of government support for legislation to implement the death penalty for terrorists, among other demands.
Likud MK’s were eager for the talks to proceed quickly. Minister Ze’ev Elkin immediately responded to the news by calling upon Netanyahu to expedite the matter with Yisrael Beytenu.
“It is better a stable government with the nationalist camp as we promised the voters than forming a fake unity government that will not be stable and will harm the Likud, the nationalist camp, and the trust of the voters in the political system.”
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) urged Liberman to “come and complete negotiations today already.”
“The great effort we have made for months to bring Liberman to truly consider entering the government and bringing six mandates back to the Right has succeeded and I welcome it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Opposition leader Isaac Herzog was abruptly sidelined as Liberman emerged Netanyahu’s true partner.
Herzog said Wednesday that Netanyahu can’t negotiate with both Zionist Camp and Yisrael Beytenu at the same time, and must choose between “madness and sanity.” “Until [Netanyau] decides, we will not conduct parallel negotiations, I do not work according to Liberman’s schedule, I go with my terms,” Herzog said at a press conference.
Seething anger in Herzog’s party flared into calls for his resignation.
Zionist Camp MK Stav Shaffir claimed that Netanyahu “used Herzog in order to bring Liberman into the government” and said it was time for Herzog to “go home.”
“It was only yesterday that Herzog tried to persuade us that Netanyahu had changed and that he was willing to take advantage of ‘a historic opportunity’ to reach a diplomatic settlement [with the Palestinians],” Shaffir wrote.
Zionist Camp MK Shelly Yacimovich, a leading opponent of a unity government, exclaimed: “What a disgrace! On the one hand I have a tremendous sense of relief that we succeeded, by joining forces, in stopping the disgrace of crawling into the government. On the other hand I admit that I am really angry. How far could this ongoing political suicide be taken?”
Jewish Home MK’s confirmed that Herzog had been strung along while Liberman was really in line for the coalition all the time.
“We’re very satisfied with how things were handled with Herzog. The Likud coordinated it with us [the Jewish Home]; that’s why we were quiet about it the entire time. It was all carefully planned,” they were quoted by Arutz Sheva as saying.