The heads of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and the strictly secular Yisrael Beytenu parties traded verbal blows Thursday as they sought to blame each other for the dissolution of the Knesset a day earlier, as their row over drafting Haredi men into the army caused coalition talks to stall.
"We were extorted," UTJ leader Yaakov Litzman said of Liberman's refusal to consider a watered-down version of the conscription bill. "We will not forget."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party was behind the motion to dissolve parliament and hold fresh elections when it became clear that neither side would compromise over the legislation.
"The coalition negotiations could have led to a good agreement, but Liberman didn’t want the conscription law or anything else," Litzman said. "What Liberman said (earlier Thursday) at his press conference was a challenge to the Haredi public."
Litzman was likely referring to the Yisrael Beytenu leader's claim that government policy cannot be one minority group.
"I have nothing against the Haredi public," Liberman said at his Tel Aviv press conference earlier in the day. "I think they need to integrate, but there must be a government that reflects the interests of the entire public. We cannot have a government taking diktats from just one group."
Liberman wanted assurances from Netanyahu that the bill would be presented for its final two votes without lowering enlistment targets, something the Haredi parties would not accept. The prime minister needed both sides in his coalition in order to muster a 61 lawmaker majority in the 120-seat parliament.
Faced with a looming deadline and the prospect of President Reuven Rivlin tasking another – most likely opposition leader Benny Gantz – with forming a coalition, Netanyahu opted for elections and blamed Liberman for the dissolution of the Knesset sworn in just last month.
Liberman insisted Thursday that his decision to remain outside the coalition was not motivated by an personal animosity between himself and Netanyahu, his former boss and ally.
"I keep hearing 'what is behind (Liberman's) decision? What do they want? Personal vengeance?' So I repeat it again, and no one has to believe me. There have been many rumors and a lot of accusations," he said.
"Just accept the facts: The facts are that our position on the Haredi draft was decided long ago, even when elections weren’t on the horizon."
"The crisis over the Haredi draft bill began as far back as February-March 2018. When we went to see the president, we recommended Benjamin Netanyahu (to form the bnext government). When we were asked by Likud over the past six weeks to support all kinds of initiatives, including changing the law over number of ministers, we did.
"As such, anyone shining a spotlight on us should first deal with the reality."
Liberman also took aim at Netanyahu for branding him "left-wing" over the coalition crisis.
"The man from Caesarea is calling the man from (the West Bank settlement of) Nokdim a leftist," Liberman said.
He then went on to list actions by Netanyahu that could be perceived as left-wing, including voting for the 2005 evacuation from Gaza, apologizing to '"dictator" Recep Tayyip Erdogan, refusing to demolish illegal Palestinian buildings, and allowing Hamas to receive more than $30 million after 700 rockets were fired at southern Israel earlier this month.