By Ofira Koopmans, dpa (TNS)
TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced Monday that he will not join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, dealing a blow to the incumbent’s emerging coalition in the 11th hour of negotiations.
“We are going to serve the people from the opposition,” he said of his six-seat hardline right-wing Israel Beiteinu party.
Defying predictions, Netanyahu’s right-wing, nationalist Likud won 30 seats in the March 17 election, paving the way for him to serve a fourth term in office as premier.
The incumbent must present his government by Wednesday midnight.
Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist Beiteinu has long been considered a natural ally for Netanyahu’s Likud party in coalition negotiations, but Lieberman’s rejection means Netanyahu may be reduced to a slim majority of 61 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.
Lieberman told reporters in Jerusalem that he will also resign from his post as foreign minister.
Netanyahu’s Likud party signed its first two coalition agreements Wednesday last week, with Kulanu and United Torah Judaism (UTJ). Lieberman cited promises made in those agreements as grounds for not joining the coalition.
The coalition Netanyahu was building with two ultra Orthodox parties, another right-wing party and the center-right Kulanu party of finance minister-designate Moshe Kahlon “is not to our taste, to say the least,” Lieberman said.
“This government has no intention of uprooting Hamas,” he said of the Islamist Palestinian movement in de facto control of the Gaza Strip, mentioning one reason of his dissatisfaction.
The next Netanyahu government would not be a nationalist one, “but the personification of opportunism,” he charged.
According to recent local media reports, Lieberman holds a grudge against Netanyahu, blaming him for an ongoing police investigation into allegations of corruption by senior members of his party.
The Likud is also negotiating with another ultra-Orthodox party, Shas (seven seats) and with the pro-settler, right-wing Jewish Home (eight seats).
Netanyahu still has a good chance of presenting his fourth government by the Wednesday midnight deadline. But if he fails, President Reuven Rivlin can appoint another lawmaker to the task of forming a government. That would then likely be Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog.
As part of the agreement signed last week with UTJ, a social reform program introduced with much fanfare during the previous government, will be canceled.
The program had included criminal sanctions for ultra-Orthodox Torah students who refuse to report for compulsory military service. It had also included a cancellation of other privileges and financial benefits for the ultra-Orthodox population in Israel.
(c)2015 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress at the Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)