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Amid deadlock, Liberman presents four-point plan for unity government

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman late Wednesday presented his blueprint for a unity government together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White amid an ongoing deadlock in talks.

Liberman, who forced the second election this year by refusing to join Netanyahu’s coalition unless the ultra-Orthodox parties agreed to passing an army draft bill, has long-called for a secular unity government.

In a post on Facebook, Liberman suggested that as a first step representatives of the three parties get together to hash out the guiding principles of a future unity government.

“First and foremost we have to clearly define all the issues on the agenda — security, economy, social and church and state,” he wrote.

Liberman said that should such an agreement be reached they should then adopt President Reuven Rivlin’s proposal for a power sharing compromise.

Rivlin had suggested a unity government in which power would be equally divided and Netanyahu and Gantz would each serve two years as prime minister. Rivlin implied, but did not specify, that Netanyahu would take an open-ended leave of absence if or when he is indicted in one or more of the probes in which he faces charges. Under the arrangement set out by Rivlin, Gantz, as “interim prime minister” in such a scenario, would enjoy all prime ministerial authority.

But the two parties have been unable to agree on who would be prime minister first under such an arrangement.

A third stage proposed by Liberman would see the new government pass the budget and a multi-year defense plan.

They would then, in the fourth stage, allow other parties to join the coalition if they agreed to the governments guiding principles, Liberman said.

Liberman’s plan suggested Gantz give up on going first in rotation and Netanyahu would have to give up on his bloc of right-wing parties.  In unity talks Netanyahu has been insisting that he also represents the far-right Yamina and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties.

Despite his legal woes — he is facing pending corruption charges in three cases — Netanyahu was tasked by Rivlin with trying to form a government based on the strength of his pact with right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties to negotiate as a bloc of 55 MKs, and was given 28 days to do so. Gantz heads a bloc of 54 MKs from the center, left and Arab parties, but the 10 Arab MKs in that group would not join a Gantz-led coalition. Neither candidate has a clear path to a 61-strong Knesset majority without the other.

Liberman insisted that his party would not join a narrow right-wing or center-left government.

The Likud party immediately rejected Liberman’s proposal, saying he had “not brought anything new.”

Blue and White welcomed the proposals, saying they saw both parties as prospective coalition partners.

Last week Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid announced that he was giving up his rotation deal with Gantz whereby they would share the premiership, in order to insure that he not constitute an obstacle to a unity government led by Gantz and including the Likud party.

Lapid is regarded with particular hostility by Israel’s two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, whose leaders have frequently cited the possibility of a prime minister Lapid as a core element of their opposition to a coalition partnership with Blue and White. Lapid has long battled to raise conscription levels in the ultra-Orthodox community. Gantz, who would have taken the first two years in a Gantz-Lapid government, is regarded as less hostile to ultra-Orthodox interests, but has indicated a preference for a coalition without the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Liberman praised Lapid’s decision to forgo a chance at being prime minister, calling it “an important and noble step.”

Liberman met Thursday with Netanyahu, in unity talks that produced no breakthrough, and then sat for one-on-one talks in the Knesset with Lapid.

The Likud party had accused Lapid of preventing any progress in unity talks with Blue and White due to an ostensible unwillingness to give up on sharing the premiership.

Netanyahu had been scheduled to meet with Gantz Wednesday evening, but the centrist party canceled the summit late Tuesday, saying there were no signs that the premier was truly interested in reaching a power-sharing compromise.

Likud and Blue and White have accused each other of intransigence in the coalition talks and claimed that the other side was pushing the country toward an unprecedented third election in under a year.


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