PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennet.
(photo credit: SASSON TIRAM,REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to expand his coalition appeared to hit a snag on Sunday when a dispute with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett forced him to postpone the approval of Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman as defense minister.
The vote was supposed to take place by telephone in Netanyahu’s cabinet on Sunday and in the Knesset on Monday, culminating in a swearing-in ceremony for Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu colleague, immigration absorption minister-designate Sofa Landver.
But due to the dispute with Bennett, the ministers did not vote and the Knesset vote was delayed to Wednesday. A security cabinet meeting on Sunday that Netanyahu and Bennett attended did not produce a discussion on how to resolve the dispute over Bennett’s request for security cabinet ministers to be briefed regularly by a military secretary.
Netanyahu’s associates said he would not give into blackmail. Bennett said he was ready to be fired or go to an election for his demand.
“We are not asking for money or political patronage positions – we are asking to keep the nation safe,” Bennett said on a visit to Jerusalem’s Himmelfarb High School.
“Their safety is more important than portfolios in the government. I will continue to fight and defend the citizens and soldiers of the IDF and the residents of the Gaza periphery wherever I will be, in the cabinet or out of it.”
He sent a letter over the weekend to his loyalists suggesting that lives have been lost in wars because ministers were not being briefed due to the prime minister’s “ego.”
Channel 10 reported that Bennett sees Liberman as unfit to be defense minister. “We will vote against the Liberman appointment even if it leads to an election,” Bayit Yehudi minister Ayelet Shaked told Israel Radio.
Various mediators tried to bridge the gap between the two sides on Sunday, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
“The gap is not wide,” Edelstein wrote on Twitter. “We should not forget that our goal is to serve the public and not force it into unnecessary elections every year.”
President Reuven Rivlin said “attempts to expand the government are right and justified.”
There was talk on Sunday of Netanyahu turning back to Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog if Bayit Yehudi leaves the coalition.
But Herzog released a statement saying that he “is watching the fight between the magician and the dreamer” and that he does not want “to be the tool in the hands of either of them.” He said no negotiations were taking place nor would there be any.
“If Netanyahu calls, Herzog should slam the phone in his face,” Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit said.
An unlikely alliance of lawmakers from the Likud, the Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and Meretz all came to Bennett’s defense. Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah said he completely agrees with Bennett’s demands, and that the proposal was mentioned in Shelah’s book.
“It’s unfortunate that the hanging sword of a comptroller’s report was necessary for a minister to make these demands, and even more unfortunate that the prime minister, who is directly responsible for the security cabinet being weak and meaningless, treats them as purely political and doesn’t fix what is necessary,” Shelah said.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal- On called on Bennett not to compromise. “Israel’s security is more important than a political deal,” she argued. “On this issue, Bennett and I share an opinion, and we must do everything to prevent the next security screw-up.”
MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) said “it is irresponsible [for cabinet ministers] to make decisions without having the necessary background information. This chaotic system costs us lives. Bennett’s demand is reasonable, and I hope it is accepted.”
The one coalition lawmaker outside of Bayit Yehudi who came out in support of Bennett was Likud rebel Oren Hazan.
“The security cabinet has great responsibilities regarding our security and if it makes decisions without full intelligence and operative materials... that is a serious problem, wrong and unacceptable,” he said.