The head of Yisrael Beiteinu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, on Monday morning informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his intention to dissolve his party's joint faction with Likud, saying that it was "not working". Lieberman told the prime minister that he intends to return to operating as an independent faction as before the two parties' pact ahead of the 2013 general elections.
The decision comes against a backdrop of Lieberman's fierce criticism of Netanyahu for Israel's tempered response to Hamas as the rocket strikes continue from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
"It hasn’t worked and it's not working," Lieberman told reporters at a press conference in Jerusalem early Monday afternoon. But he stressed that "I will not dismantle the coalition."
"Recently, the differences of opinion between the prime minister and myself have become fundamental and over principles," Lieberman. "The truth is, that the relationship did not work during the elections, did not work after the elections and to date there have more than a few technical problems, (and) when technical problems become fundamental problems there is no point in hiding from it."
But, the foreign minister stressed, "We remain loyal partners in the coalition, and are the last to want it to collapse. The establishment of the Yisrael Beiteinu faction is definitely a significant step, but it is also a significant step to strengthen the coalition. This coalition was from the beginning a variegated one with the greatest ever ideological disparities."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minster Avigdor Liberman (Photo: Gil Yochanan)
For the first time since the elections, Lieberman's camp said Sunday night that the foreign minister was furious at Netanyahu's criticism of him during the weekly cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
There have been some public clashes between the two recently, the most serious of which related to the fact that despite their political alliance, Netanyahu did not update Lieberman on his last-minute decision to support the candidacy of Reuven Rivlin for president.
Since the abduction of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer, and in particular over the last few days, the foreign minister has stepped up his criticism of Netanyahu and his leadership. Those close to Lieberman claim he believes the prime minister has taken a weak stance and has a stuttering policy.
Sunday's cabinet meeting saw yet another confrontation after Netanyahu rebuked ministers for giving interviews on the subject of the security situation. Lieberman, who believed that this was indirect criticism leveled at him, hit back vocally at the prime minister.
The two held a long meeting on Monday morning, apparently to end the tensions between them, but Lieberman announced that he intends to dismantle the joint faction and return to being an independent party within the coalition.
In April, Lieberman told Yedioth Ahronoth that Yisrael Beiteinu would run separately in the next elections.
The move means that Israel Beiteinu becomes the fifth largest Knesset faction, with 11 MKs, while Likud is left with just 20 seats. Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party has 19 seats, and Labor has 15.