Heated Knesset debate shows tension between Livni, PM

Opposition leader attacks Netanyahu, asking, "When was the last time you told the truth to the public, your ministers?"

December 1, 2010 21:47
3 minute read.
PM Binyamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu sweating 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni faced off in a heated and often personal debate on the Knesset floor Wednesday afternoon, with Livni slamming the prime minister for making ambiguous statements and failing to uphold promises.

The special Knesset session that took up the vast majority of the four hour-long plenum meeting came after Kadima MKs gathered the signatures of 40 MKs, forcing the prime minister to sit in the plenum while hearing the complaints made by opposition members against Netanyahu’s policies.

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Borderline Views: Yes to a referendum
Fatah: No to Israel as Jewish state, no land swaps

Netanyahu blamed the Palestinians for the lack of progress in the peace process and blasted the recent report written by the Palestinian Authority denying the Jewish people’s connection to the Western Wall. “I’m trying to imagine what the world’s reaction would be if Israel would say that Islam had no connection to Mecca or Catholicism had no connection to the Vatican,” Netanyahu said. “I say to [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen, condemn this phenomenon.

Tell your people ‘there is a Jewish nation here and we recognize their existence.’” The prime minister added that Iran, not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was the main factor causing a lack of stability in the Middle East.

Netanyahu did not reserve his criticism for foreign regimes, slamming Kadima for withdrawing support for the recently passed National Referendum Law. He chided the opposition party for having been among the initial sponsors of the legislation, but then making a decision to impose faction discipline in opposition to the bill.

“Do you want to take the place of the people?” Netanyahu asked. “From a moral perspective, a referendum is the best option.”

Towards the end of his speech, Netanyahu also took a personal jab at Livni, noting that as he spoke, she appeared to be reading text messages on her cellphone and writing down notes.

Livni set the tone for the rest of her speech when she took the podium and responded to Netanyahu’s criticism by telling him that his comments had “set a low bar.”

“I could read you the text messages that I received while you spoke, but all that would happen is that you would be offended,” she chided him.

“Here’s what the public thinks about the performance you just delivered: ‘he’s angry and he’s weak.’ “When was the last time you told the truth to the public?” she asked him. “When was the last time you told the truth to your ministers? “There was once a great leader who said that he didn’t know whether to believe your right hand or your left hand, and this week we saw an example of that, regarding one sentence that you said behind closed doors regarding land swaps,” Livni continued.

“You are the only person I know for whom the same sentence is interpreted by different groups in this house as having opposite meanings.

But as usual, you didn’t clarify who interpreted your statement correctly, you left it inconclusive. Your inconclusiveness is not done for purposes of negotiation, but rather for your own political survival.”

In the uncharacteristically emotionally-charged speech, Livni accused Netanyahu of “trading in the hopes of young people.”

“You know that you are going to divide this land – how can you send a young couple to build their house in a place that you know that they will have to leave. How can you look in the eyes of battered women, to whom you promised a budget, but you never transferred it to them. How can you look in the eyes of students whom you promised a free year of education, but which never happened?” In the course of the hearing, dozens of MKs heckled rival speakers, and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) had ushers remove MKs from his own faction, Ophir Akunis and Danny Danon, for repeatedly interrupting Livni’s speech. Coalition members complained that Akunis and Danon had been unfairly singled out while other Kadima MKs, who had been equally vocal during Netanyahu’s speech, escaped with warnings.

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