Trump Tweets for Stronger US-Israel Alliance as New Israeli Elections Loom

0
470
Avigdor Liberman, left, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his swearing-in ceremony on May 30, 2016 - Photo Credit: Haim Zach/GPO

Netanyahu thinks that Liberman may respond to pressure from the U.S., Israeli officials say.

Edited by: JV Staff

In a brief speech to the press on Monday at the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against “unnecessary elections” and called for all parties to act responsibly. To bolster his argument, he noted that President Donald Trump himself had expressed his hopes that a coalition would be formed, according to a World Israel News report.

NBC News reported that Netanyahu delivered a primetime statement on Monday calling on his potential partners to put “the good of the nation above every other interest” in order to avoid sending the country once again to “expensive, wasteful” elections. He placed the blame on Israel Beitenu chairman Avigdor Liberman for creating the crisis, but said he was hopeful his efforts to salvage a compromise in the next 48 hours would succeed.

Netanyahu stated Sunday night that he had proposed a solution in the last effort to prevent elections, as was reported by TPS. “I am now making a final effort to establish a right-wing government and to prevent unnecessary elections. I gave the partners a proposal for a solution. It is based on the principles established by the army and on the data that the army has compiled – there is no reason to reject this. I’m going to invite all party leaders tonight, I want to talk to them and try together to prevent unnecessary elections,” he stated.

A strong U.S.-Israel relationship carries weight with the Israeli public as was previously proven. According to Maariv, Netanyahu wants members of the Trump administration to step in and pressure Liberman to join the coalition.

Liberman, thus far has stubbornly refused to do so. Though Netanyahu’s Likud party increased its power to 35 seats in parliament in the April 9 vote, it can’t muster a 61-seat majority without Lieberman’s party. WIN reported that failure to form a government means the country would again go to elections, an unheard-of event in Israel.

The crisis ostensibly revolves around Lieberman’s insistence that current legislation mandating that young ultra-Orthodox men be drafted into the military goes through the Knesset voting process without a single modification or alteration to the bill, as was reported by World Israel News.

Haredi, or Orthodox parties consider conscription a taboo, fearing that military service will lead to immersion in secularism. Although exemptions have led to widespread resentment among non-religious Israelis, the haredi parties insist they stay in place.

Tazpit Press Service reported that the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, with 16 seats, have made concessions regarding the draft law, but are unwilling to adopt the formula that Liberman is demanding.

The Likud stated that the Moetzet Gedolei Ha-Torah, its supreme leadership committee, has accepted Netanyahu’s proposal regarding the IDF draft law.

“The draft law has become a symbol and we will not capitulate on our symbols,” Liberman defiantly said, vowing to press for new elections if his demands are not met.

NBC News reported that Netanyahu’s Likud party has traditionally had an alliance with Orthodox and nationalist parties. But Liberman, a former top Netanyahu aide, is a wild card. Though stanchly nationalist, he also champions a secular agenda aimed toward his political base of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, according to the NBC News report.

“I will not be a partner to a Halachic state,” he said, using the word for Jewish law.

However, Israeli officials told Maariv that Netanyahu thinks the Trump card may work with Liberman, who will be asked to join the government out of “national responsibility.”

On Monday, Trump tweeted his hopes “things will work out with Israel’s coalition formation and Bibi and I can continue to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever. A lot more to do!”

Netanyahu referred to Trump’s tweet in a statement that was broadcasted live on all the television channels in Israel, according to Axios.com. He thanked the US leader for his tweet and said: “Trump is right – we still have a lot of work to do.”

Netanyahu is one of Trump’s main allies around the world. During the last election in Israel, Trump intervened in favor of Netanyahu and Netanyahu used Trump in his TV ads and on billboards around Israel, as was reported by Axios.

Two weeks before the election, Trump recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel. This decision was a huge win for Netanyahu and had an influence on Israeli public opinion.

On the Israeli political front, World Israel News reported that the Likud has assailed Liberman in recent days for undermining the people’s will for a right-wing government and accused him of acting out of personal spite for Netanyahu. The prime minister himself said Lieberman would be fully responsible for dragging the country into a major crisis and that his people have vowed to aggressively go after Lieberman’s core supporters in response.

But the mercurial Liberman seems to be holding his ground, according to the WIN report.

“The only motivation of Israel Beiteinu is to stand by our principles and our commitments,” he said in a Facebook post. “We are not looking to topple Netanyahu and are not looking for an alternative candidate, but we will not compromise.”

New Right party officials say they’re ready for a second go if the country goes to unprecedented back-to-back elections, according to a WIN report. The party narrowly failed to meet the minimum required threshold by about 1,400 votes in the last elections held in April.

When a party doesn’t pass the electoral threshold all of its votes are discounted. In the New Right’s case it cost Israel’s right-wing bloc over 138,000 votes, which went up in smoke when the party failed to make it into the Knesset, as was reported by World Israel News.

But now it appears the party may get a second chance. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has encountered unexpected difficulties in forming a government coalition. In mid-May, he requested a two-week extension. It expires on Wednesday night.

Netanyahu’s best efforts have not been able to bring together coalition partners who stand at opposite ends of the debate over the conscription law.

On Monday, the Likud brought a motion to dissolve the Knesset, a first-step toward heading to new elections, according to the World Israel News report.

The New Right was founded by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. It’s not clear if Shaked will run again.

According to party officials, “The party will run in the elections and make connections, with Shaked or without her.”

The World Israel News report observed that this may be a disadvantage for the New Right as Shaked is popular, a fact known to the party and indicated by the fact that her name came first on campaign posters despite Bennett being the party’s leading figure.

Prior to the sudden possibility of new elections, it appeared that Bennett would move on from politics or at least take a long hiatus.

At the International Bible Competition on May 9, during his final speech as education minister at an official event, Bennett said “You try as long as you can, don’t give up as long as there’s any chance. Once you’re hit – get up, learn from your mistakes and move on. I did the best I could. There’s so much work yet to be done, and people at least as good as me to do it. Wherever I’ll be, I’ll never stop giving everything I can for the Israeli people.”

A Monday poll published by the Maariv newspaper shows that the right would gain further power if elections were held today, as was reported by TPS.  Netanyahu’s Likud would maintain its 35 seats, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, the main opposition party, would lose one seat and get 34 mandates, and the right-wing parties in total would get 68 seats, three more than their current 65 seats.

On Tuesday, INN reported that the special committee for the bill to dissolve the Knesset approved the motion for second and third reading. On Wednesday, at noon, the Knesset will begin its deliberations on the bill.

Meanwhile, a source in the Likud who has been involved in the negotiations told Channel 13 News in Israel that if an agreement is reached at the last minute to form a coalition then National Union chairman Bezalel Smotrich would have to be given the justice portfolio.

The official stated that Smotrich would be made Justice Minister despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s preference to give the portfolio to Likud MK Yariv Levin due to the lack of time before tomorrow’s deadline to form the coalition, as was reported by Israel National News.  

Also on Tuesday, INN reported that Netanyahu had met with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut and her deputy Hanan Meltzer at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, at his request.

Chief Justice Hayut and Deputy Chief Justice Meltzer stressed the importance of maintaining the independence of the judicial authority. Prime Minister Netanyahu emphasized the need for balance between the branches of government.

INN reported that at the end of the meeting, Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying, “The participants noted the importance of substantive and respectful dialogue between the branches of government.”

In her speech, Hayut claimed that Netanyahu did not address the issues he himself committed to in his inaugural address to the Supreme Court, in which he emphasized the need for a strong and independent judicial system.

(WIN, TPS, NBC)