The forecasts that the Yisrael Beitenu party risks being left outside the Knesset in the next elections do not disturb party founder and leader Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman.
"I've been working with the same pollster since the party was founded in 1999, Yossi Vadana from Shvakim Panorama, and he's never wrong," Liberman told "Globes" last Thursday. "In the most recent poll we did a week ago, we got at least nine Knesset seats. I trust that. I'm confident that our position today is better than in the 2015 elections, which was our hardest election campaign. We got six and a half seats then - 210,000 votes - and we lost a seventh seat because of the surplus votes agreement with Kahlon. Anyone who talks about being close to not getting enough votes to be in the Knesset understands nothing."
"Globes": They are talking about the possibility of you running for head of the Likud.
Liberman: "We'll definitely run on our own. We in Yisrael Beitenu represent something else, a secular right, a traditional right. It's no accident that the supermarkets issue arose. I'm in favor of tradition and against religious coercion. It's not just an argument about supermarkets; it's about the nature of Judaism: welcoming or inflexible, both in Israel and within the Diaspora Jewish community."
Talking with party operatives shows that you are appealing to new sections of the public among the middle class, and are abandoning the characteristics of a sectoral party.
"We have always been in the middle class. We are the well-thought out right. Our views, from an exchange of territory to the death penalty for terrorists, have been the same for years. I understand the tendency to label things, but how does that square with us being the biggest party among the Druze? What does that have to do with immigrants from Russia? I don't think we have been in such a good position as we are now since the last elections. I'm confident we'll get 11-12 Knesset seats."
While we are on the subject of well-thought out views, some have been disappointed that you did not follow up on your belligerent statements before you became minister of defense. Instead of bombarding the Gaza Strip and killing Ismail Haniyeh, they got a minister of defense who seems pragmatic.
"I'm not a pragmatic minister of defense; I'm a determined minister of defense. From 1967 to the present day, this has been the safest year in the communities near the Gaza Strip in terms of casualties, penetrations, wounded and mortars. People living there have never felt so satisfied."
Maybe you just became minister of defense during the usual lull between conflicts with Hamas.
"I'm no expert, but from June 1, 2016, the date on which I entered the Ministry of Defense, until now, the Gaza Strip has never been so quiet. In my job, the phrase 'life and death' is no cliche; it's a daily dilemma, so I have to be both determined and responsible, and what I have done is exactly that. No one else other than the prime minister has anywhere near the amount of experience that I do, so I know what to do and when to do it."
The next elections will be in the shadow of public corruption. How will that affect the Likud, and how will it affect you?
"Have elections been announced? I don't foresee any elections in 2018. I don't see anyone with an interest in early elections. It's early days to say what the election agenda will be."
Nevertheless, the Yisrael Beitenu affair damaged you in the last elections.
"There was an attempt to turn the 242 affair into the Yisrael Beitenu affair, even though most of the people under investigation were not connected to us. Look what happened to Stas Misezhnikov (a former Minister of Tourism and Knesset Finance Committee chairman from Yisrael Beitenu who entered prison two months ago, C.S.). After all the headlines, all that remained was a conflict of interest. That's also not a good situation, but there's an enormous difference between what was reported then and what eventually happened in court."
Do you think that Netanyahu should resign because of all the cases he is being investigated for?
"I assume that Netanyahu is innocent, until it is proven otherwise. He is presumed innocent, and the court is the only body authorized to decide this - not the media, and not the opposition. People should let the court do its work thoroughly and make the decision."
In that case, you believe that he will be tried and brought to court.
"I don't know. I know of one politician who went to court before a three-judge panel and after a well-publicized trial was unanimously declared innocent for lack of evidence."
I assume you are referring to yourself.
"Right, so let's wait and see."
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on January 2, 2018
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