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Lieberman announces plan for unity government

What happened: Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party, last night announced his plan to solve Israel’s political deadlock. Writing on Facebook, he outlined a four stage process to form a national unity government with Likud, Blue and White and Yisrael Beitenu which he maintained expresses the “will of the people” from the recent election.

  • The first stage would involve negotiating teams from the three parties meeting and agreeing on basic principles – security, economy, society, religion and state – for a national unity government.
  • Contingent on agreement being reached on basic principles, the second stage would see the adoption of President Reuven Rivlin’s premiership rotation proposal. Rivlin’s proposal would likely have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu serve for the first two years followed by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for the subsequent two years, with an indefinite “incapacitation” clause triggered if Netanyahu were to be indicted on corruption charges (whereby Gantz would effectively take over early).
  • The third stage would see the national unity government immediately pass a 2020 budget as well as a ten-year plan for the Israel Defence Force.
  • The fourth stage would open the door to additional parties to join the governing coalition, based on the unity government’s basic principles and the 2020 budget.

Context: Blue and White tentatively welcomed Lieberman’s proposal, saying they viewed Yisrael Beitenu as a future partner and would be willing to meet with Likud for stage one (negotiations) of the proposal. Likud, for its part, dismissed Lieberman’s proposal, saying it contained nothing new.

  • Lieberman’s proposal presents uncomfortable choices for both Blue and White and Likud. In its response, Blue and White did not address the possibility of Netanyahu remaining Prime Minister as part of President Rivlin’s rotation proposal – something elements within the party (and party voters) adamantly oppose.
  • Likud is loath to break up its partnership with the 55-seat right-wing/religious technical bloc, as demanded in the first stage, simply to enter negotiations for a national unity government. Netanyahu has maintained that any unity government would include the entire bloc, a non-starter for both Blue and White and Lieberman.
  • Netanyahu likely fears that any concession on this point would see his right-wing/religious allies break up and begin contemplating brokering deals of their own once Benny Gantz has the opportunity to form a government.
  • As Lieberman summed up: “In order for this plan to be implemented, Netanyahu has to part ways with the messianic ultra-Orthodox bloc that he formed, and Gantz will have to accept the President’s proposal.”

Looking ahead: Netanyahu still holds the first opportunity – or “mandate” – to form a government, although he has made no progress on this front. He is expected to return the mandate to President Rivlin at some point in next two weeks, even before his allotted time ends. After that, Gantz will have 28 days to form a government.

  • Without some compromise from either the Likud or from Lieberman, Gantz will also find it impossible to form a government.
  • The Likud Central Committee was tonight scheduled to vote on a motion reaffirming Netanyahu’s position as party leader during the coalition talks (including in any premiership rotation deal), likely forestalling the possibility of an internal putsch to oust him.
  • As Lieberman also made clear last night, he will refuse any offer to join a narrow government with either the right or left, especially one supported from outside the ruling coalition by the Arab-Israeli political parties.