Israeli Parliament Starts Process for New Election; Lieberman Refuses to Join Coalition

Lieberman won't join Netanyahu, won't recommend alternative coalition leader

Having managed a scant five seats in the April election, Yisrael Beiteinu, the party of Avigdor Lieberman, has emerged as kingmaker. or as seems increasingly likely, election-maker, as on Monday he ruled out joining the Netanyahu-led coalition.

Israel’s parliament has 120 seats, meaning 61 are required to form a coalition. Netanyahu has a solid 60 seats, but Lieberman was really his only chance to get over the threshold, and that’s not going to happen.

Under Israeli law the president is intended to keep nominating coalition leaders to try to form governments so long as it is plausible, but it seems Netanyahu may have been the first and last nominee, with parliament voting today on the preliminary ready to dissolve the Knesset and hold another election. Two more votes have to pass to actually hold the election, and those are likely to happen Wednesday, when Netanyahu’s mandate expires.

Netanyahu continues to beg Lieberman to come on board at the last minute, but Lieberman’s longtime acrimony with the religious right had made that all but impossible. Even offers of compromise from those parties were spurned, and Lieberman says he’ll never join the “halakah government.” Lieberman also declined to recommend an alternative coalition leader.

This may not just be Lieberman’s stubbornness blocking a government, as reports have him negotiating with Ayelet Shaked of the New Right about running a joint list in the next election. Lieberman got five seats and New Right didn’t get any, but polls suggest the two combined could net ten seats total.

While Israel has often struggled to get majority coalitions formed, they’ve tended to come together at the last minute. This time, however, it is unlikely that there is an avenue for compromise.

The situation looks so dire for Netanyahu that even President Trump has come forward to urge parliament to back Netanyahu, promising the US-Israel alliance would be “stronger than ever.” Though it is increasingly common for the US to meddle in the coalition formations of friendly governments, it is all but unheard of in Israel, where historically the US has just accepted unconditionally whatever majority Israel manages to piece together.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.