Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman and invited him to a meeting after the latter declared at a press conference that, despite media reports, his party had not received any official, concrete offers to join the government.
The prime minister, whose narrow coalition only has a one-vote majority in the Knesset, is currently in talks with opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) over joining a unity government, a contentious move within his party. Lieberman has also recently been rumored to be in talks to join the government, after initial talks he had with the ruling Likud party to join the new government immediately following the March 2015 elections fell through, leaving the once-ally of Netanyahu in the opposition.
At the press conference on Wednesday, Lieberman stated that "if the central issues we discussed are addressed, then we definitely have what to talk about."
"I've been hearing a lot of times in the media that we received one proposal or another," Lieberman said. "Supposedly there have been countless of mediators and emissaries, which I read in the papers have offered us the defense and immigration absorption ministries, pension reforms and the death sentence (to terrorists). In fact, we have not received any official proposal."
Lieberman decided to convene the press conference after Channel 10 reported on Tuesday evening that Netanyahu had offered him the Defense Ministry several days ago, even before Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's speech Sunday that led to a public rift between Ya'alon and the prime minister.
"We have no intention of whitewashing the Labor party's entry into the government," Lieberman stressed. "We're the true national camp. We have clear positions, primarily in the fields of security, immigration and absorption. If those issues are indeed on the table, and they're willing to talk to us—not just over the defense portfolio but also defense policy, death sentence, pension reforms—I don't see why not have these talks directly, instead of in the dead of night and through mediators and leaks to the press."
Lieberman said he knew he would not be able to receive all of his demands. "We have several demands, but we want to see the full package. It's clear to us we're not getting 100 percent, but I want to see the final mix," he said.
"Regarding the issues of religion and state - our positions are clear. It's clear to us that ultra-Orthodox parties are part of the coalition. We're talking about being reasonable, have good will if such exists. We've been in a coalition with Haredim before," Lieberman added.
Immigration Absorption Minister Ze'ev Elkin of the Likud party called on the prime minister "to seriously examine the option of expanding the government in expeditious negotiations with Yisrael Beytenu. It's better to build a stable national camp government, in accordance with our promise to the voters, than to head into a false unity government, which will not be stable and hurt the Likud, the national camp, and in general, the public's trust in the political system."
Officials in the Likud party accused Lieberman on Tuesday of trying to sabotage efforts to expand the government. "Prime Minister Netanyahu has called on Lieberman to join the government," one official said. "The prime minister believes a broad government could better handle the security, diplomatic and economic challenges (Israel faces). Lieberman has yet to respond to the proposal and with that continues to prevent the expansion of the national government headed by the Likud party."
Sources close to Lieberman slammed these comments, saying "the briefings (to the press) coming out of the Prime Minister's Office are simply another spin, one of many we've seen in recent days."