Opposition lawmakers rose from their Knesset recess rest to criticize the government’s peace-making efforts as insufficient and call for a new election Monday.
The meeting in Knesset came one day after Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said at the Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York that he would prefer new elections to a threeway deal being considered to release Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a continuation of negotiations with the PLO and the US’s release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.
According to opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor), a new election is not a threat but a solution “to get out of the dead end the government brought us to in every area.
“We are on top of a volcano, and the public doesn’t realize how serious the situation is and that it’s all the prime minister’s fault because he can’t do anything,” Herzog said. “[Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] doesn’t have the ability to take real steps toward peace.”
Therefore, Herzog called on Hatnua and Yesh Atid to leave the government and form a coalition with Labor. However, the opposition leader did not explain the math behind such a coalition, which could not get a majority without Shas and UTJ, which are unlikely to join a government with Lapid in it.
Still, the opposition was able to get the necessary 25 signatures from MKs to hold a Knesset meeting during the recess.
The meeting was meant to be a discussion both of failed negotiations with the Palestinians and of Pollard’s continued incarceration, but did not address the latter more than cursorily.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said the entire purpose of negotiations was to help the coalition survive.
“Does it look serious that the foreign minister is zigzagging?” she asked. “First about the Kerry outline, which he supported two months ago and now he doesn’t, and then about releasing prisoners, which he voted for but now opposes.”
She added: “I don’t have any expectations from [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Liberman and [Economy Minister Naftali] Bennett, but what about [Justice Minister Tzipi] Livni and [Finance Minister Yair] Lapid, who swore not to sit in a government that doesn’t negotiate? They’re becoming the Netanyahu government’s collaborators... They only care about their seats.”
MK Eitan Cabel (Labor), however, said he never took seriously Lapid’s statements that he would leave a government that does not conduct peace talks, because Yesh Atid could not survive the hard work of being in the opposition.
According to Cabel, “nothing will happen in peace talks if Netanyahu doesn’t solve his problems at home with [Deputy Defense Minister] Danny Danon and his ilk.” He sarcastically asked how the country’s security would survive if Danon resigns over an additional prisoner release, as he has threatened.
“I’m not defending the Palestinians,” Cabel said, “but it’s amazing how people act like they’re shocked that the Palestinians have demands. Isn’t that the meaning of negotiations?” MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) said that the “mainstream media” had been trying to fault the Palestinians, though Netanyahu did not want to reach an agreement in the first place.
“Negotiations were a waste of time meant to keep the coalition alive,” he added.
Tibi also accused the government of “bringing up Pollard’s name in order to extort the US administration. What does Pollard have to do with the deal? The US administration showed weakness.”
The UAL-Ta’al MK said there had been no progress in the meetings between Livni and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
“You know that because you were Arafat’s adviser,” Deputy Minister for Liaison with the Knesset Ophir Akunis said, adding that Arafat was a terrorist.
“Arafat was a great leader of the Palestinian people, and I was proud to be his adviser,” Tibi responded.
When Akunis and Tibi continued shouting at each other, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein asked them to stop.
“This should be an example for my deputies on how to stop an argument without getting involved, even if the comments are, well...” he said, trailing off before openly criticizing Tibi and Akunis.
Later, when Akunis took the stand, he said to Tibi: “Arafat’s memory should be cursed. He is a despicable person and a murderer and you hang his picture in your office in the Knesset. I suggest you find something else to be proud of.”
Akunis also said the opposition “once again automatically took the Palestinians’ side, even though Abbas ran away [from an agreement] again and again.
“There is one truth and it is on Israel’s side,” he said. “These are the facts: Abbas said no to [US President Barack] Obama about a framework document and no to the Arab League about even discussing recognition of a Jewish state. The US mostly pressured Israel, and in the end the Palestinians spit in their faces.”
The deputy minister added that the Palestinians’ extortion knows no limits.
“If the other side takes unilateral steps, Israel sees itself as free to do the same,” he said.