Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said he is stepping down from his post and his Yisrael Beytenu won’t join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government.
Liberman made the announcement in a televised press briefing. The unexpected move will pose difficulties for the prime minister as he tries to form a stable ruling coalition before this week’s deadline. If he doesn’t do so by Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin has the option to grant another party leader an opportunity to form a government.
Without Liberman’s support, Netanyahu will probably present a coalition that holds just 61 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.
“Unfortunately, everything we wanted to see in the coalition agreements, and also that which we didn’t see, has brought me to the conclusion that the future will bring a government that serves opportunists rather than national interests,” Liberman said.
The Moldova-born Liberman, 56, who worked for Netanyahu during his first term as premier in the 1990s, founded Yisrael Beytenu in 1999. The party draws most of its support from Russian-immigrant Israelis who share his skepticism that a peace agreement can be reached with the current Palestinian leadership.
Yisrael Beytenu dropped to six Knesset seats in the March 17 election from 11 in the previous parliament, reducing Liberman’s leverage with Netanyahu.
The two blocs have clashed over deals that Netanyahu’s Likud has reached with two religious parties expected to join the new government. Those groups support privileges for ultra-orthodox Jews, such as exemption from military service, that are unpopular with Yisrael Beytenu’s largely secular constituency.
Liberman also charged the emerging coalition with backing away from a proposed bill that would anchor Israel’s identity as a Jewish state in law, a measure opponents say is discriminatory toward the country’s Arab minority.
Liberman’s departure from the Foreign Ministry may present the next government with an opportunity to improve Israel’s diplomatic standing. His firm opposition to the peace process, and harsh comments about regional powers such as Egypt and Turkey, have dismayed policy makers in the U.S. and Europe.