Israel Beytenu Chairman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, announced Monday that he will not enter the new coalition and that he is resigning as foreign minister – throwing coalition talks into uncertainty hours before the final deadline for announcing a governing coalition. But is he just posturing?
Without Liberman and his six-seat faction, the coalition will have a very narrow and relatively unstable majority of 61 MKs. It will be vulnerable to threats by single MKs and the slightest tensions between coalition partners could result in parliamentary embarrassments. Already, Liberman's move has prompted the Jewish Home to demand more portfolios for itself, in anticipation of an attempt by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to woo Labor into the coalition in place of Liberman's party.
However, it is possible that Liberman does not really intend to stay out of the coalition for long. If this interpretation of his actions is correct, Liberman – a seasoned politician and expert negotiator – might just want Netanyahu to sweat, and eventually give Liberman kind of concession that he can show proudly to his voters as an accomplishment.
Liberman's party is in trouble and the last election cut it down from 11 MKs to 6. Voters were miffed by a corruption investigation that involves, among others, MK Faina Kirshenbaum, who is close to Liberman, and a feeling that Liberman failed to accomplish anything meaningful in his term as foreign minister.
Netanyahu 'selling out'?
In announcing his decision to head for the Opposition, Liberman accused Netanyahu of “selling out” to the haredim and agreeing to freeze the Nationality Law, which the haredim see as strengthening the secular interpretation of Israel's Jewishness.
The decision is not fueled by personal animosity with Netanyahu, Liberman said Monday, nor is it an expression of disappointment with the portfolios that were offered. "We had no problem with the roles we were given – at least not the ministerial positions, the Foreign Ministry and the Absorption Ministry," Liberman claimed. "The decision we made is that it is not right for us to join the current coalition, which will not see a nationalist government – but a government that smacks of opportunism and conformism."
Liberman said that he is willing to pay “a heavy electoral price” for his decision to stay out of the government, but it could be that he is just posturing. It is possible that he expects Netanyahu to place pressure on the haredi parties to retract their opposition to the Nationality Law, and thus enable him to enter the coalition. He will then be able to show his voter base that he is a man of principles and that unlike the Jewish Home, he refuses to sell out his supporters.