Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Wednesday afternoon with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman to discuss adding his party to the governing coalition and even offered him the positions of Minister of Defense and Minister of Immigrant Absorption. Lieberman accepted the prime minister's offer to take the defense portfolio, and the two hope to finish negotiations to join the coalition by Friday morning.
If Yisrael Beytenu joins the coalition, the current minister of immigrant absorption, Ze'ev Elkin, is expected to receive the limited economy portfolio including just industry and trade.
Senior officials involved in the negotiations estimated, "This will be closed on within 24 hours. The chances that Lieberman will join (the coalition) are very high. It's nearly finished."
Netanyahu's Likud party announced officially following the meeting with Lieberman that "The meeting was straightforward, was run with a good attitude, and, at its conclusion, it was decided to establish negotiation teams. The prime minister is updating the leader of the opposition on the details."
Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin said following the meeting, "I welcome the positive progress in talks to add Yisrael Beytenu to the government. I'm convinced that we'll be able to reach mutual understandings and agreements on important agenda items."
Netanyahu also spoke with current Minister of Defense Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon by telephone to inform him that his position had been offered to Lieberman.
Bayit Yehudi officials were quick to comment, "Bogie's going, and that's for the best. It's been a year of tremendous damage to the IDF. A year of abandoning soldiers, a year of terrible army culture. Bogie needs to go home, and he's going…Lieberman's entering (the coalition) will make the government the most right-wing government in history, and that's good. A full right-wing government could reach a full term."
"I've been hearing a lot of times in the media that we received one proposal or another," Lieberman said earlier in the day. "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 was speaking 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.
A former commander of Sayeret Matkal, MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union) commented on the Netanyahu–Lieberman meeting, "The picture is becoming clearer, and the extent of the disaster is being exposed. Ousting Ya'alon from the Ministry of Defense is ousting the last defender of the IDF."
She went on to say that "Netanyahu's meeting with Lieberman will also come to naught. This farce should be ended immediately. Oh, the shame."