Netanyahu and Bennett.
(photo credit: ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP,REUTERS)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tried to ease tension between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett Monday at a meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu faction in the Knesset.
Liberman said Bennett needed to “calm down” and contribute “fewer declarations and more cooperation.”
Noting his recent joke about having surgery to heal his short fuse, he recommended that Bennett undergo a similar procedure.
In a speech Sunday to mark Jerusalem Day, Bennett accused Netanyahu of being “disloyal to the Land of Israel.”
“You cannot be in favor of the Land of Israel in Hebrew and form a Palestinian state in English,” Bennett said in regard to Netanyahu’s stated willingness to revive peace talks based on a revised version of a 2002 Saudi peace initiative.
Likud officials responded Monday by accusing Bennett of “hypocrisy that knows no bounds.” The officials added that if Bennett pulls his party from the governing coalition, everyone would know it was for personal, not ideological reasons, and all blame will be placed on him.
“He who sat with [then minister] Tzipi Livni in the government that held direct negotiations with the Palestinians suddenly saw the light miraculously at the same time that Liberman was appointed defense minister,” a Likud official said.
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“It is absurd that the greatest threat to a wide, rightwing government is the head of Bayit Yehudi.”
Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon called upon all coalition partners to behave responsibly, telling his faction on a tour of the City of David archeological site that due to the challenges the government is facing, “we don’t have the privilege to be dragged into internal battles.”
Liberman defended himself from charges that he had been inconsistent ideologically, noting that he has been saying that keeping the Jewish people together was more important than maintaining all of Israel’s land since 2004.
He said that due to challenges in the region, Israel required the widest possible government.
Army Radio revealed Monday that Liberman had canceled a visit to the controversial Amona outpost. He explained to the faction that he had canceled all the plans he made as an opposition MK, calling Amona “a hot potato that will be dealt with according to the law.”
Asked about his statement as an opposition MK that he would assassinate Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh within 48 hours if he became minister of defense, Liberman asked the press for patience.
He said he had only been defense minister for a week and recommended that the question be asked at the end of his term.
Answering a question from The Jerusalem Post about the defense pact Israel is working on with the US, Liberman revealed that he will be going to the US in two weeks to meet with American officials and hinted that the matter would be a central issue on his trip. Liberman enjoyed relatively good relations with the Obama administration when he was foreign minister.
“I hope to help reach understandings and agreements on aid in the best way possible,” he said.
US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told The Jerusalem Post following a meeting with the Bayit Yehudi faction that he was hopeful that a new defense pact between Israel and the US could be reached soon. Shapiro said he believes Liberman can play a positive role in reaching an agreement.
Julie Steigerwald contributed to this report.
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