PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennet.
(photo credit: SASSON TIRAM,REUTERS)
Months of a strained relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett erupted at Wednesday’s security cabinet meeting, with the premier reportedly threatening to fire Bennett over the Bayit Yehudi leader’s objection to the meeting’s agenda.
When the meeting began with a discussion over the IDF’s multi-year budget, Bennett demanded that it first deal with an issue he has been focusing on for weeks: discussions being held between the IDF and the heads of the Palestinian security apparatus, and the Palestinian request that the IDF refrain from entering Area A of the West Bank, which is under the Palestinian Authority’s control.
The IDF agrees in principle to refrain as much as possible from entering Area A, but is not willing to provide a blanket commitment. Rather, its guiding principle, at Netanyahu’s directive, is that wherever the Palestinian security forces act more, the IDF will need to act less.
When Bennett demanded that the meeting begin with this issue, Netanyahu replied that there is an order to the discussions, and that the matter would be discussed at the end of the meeting.
Bennett said that he coordinated the matter with the defense minister’s military attaché, and that his concern was that if it was not the first item to be discussed, the discussion would be further postponed.
Sources close to Bennett said he had received a firm commitment from Netanyahu on Sunday that the issue would be raised at the meeting, and that he was shocked when the agenda was read out and the fate of Area A was not on the list.
According to sources close to the prime minister and education minister, Bennett raised his voice, and Netanyahu reacted angrily, stressing that he was the one running the meeting. “I recommend that you stop, or calm down and begin to act like a minister, or I will fire you,” he reportedly said.
Bennett responded: “Do what you want. I will continue to make my views on security issues heard.”
Immigrant and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who often allies himself with Bennett in the security cabinet, interjected, saying that even if there is criticism, there is a proper way to speak to the prime minister.
When emotions calmed down, the discussion on this issue was held, but only after the 2016-2020 IDF budget was first discussed and approved.
Following the meeting the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement, which it does only rarely following security cabinet meetings, saying that the forum heard a briefing from Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen.
Gadi Eisenkot on the discussions about security coordination being held with the Palestinian security forces.
“The prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff made clear that the IDF reserves, and will reserve, the right to enter Area A and anywhere needed according to operational needs, and that there is no other agreement with the Palestinians,” the statement read.
Sources close to Bennett said they are not taking Netanyahu’s threat to fire him too seriously.
“It is fundamental for senior ministers and coalition partners to request answers on security issues when terrorism is rampant on the streets,” Bayit Yehudi faction head Shuli Moalem-Refaeli said. “If Netanyahu wants to break up the government on that, he can go tell the public again that Arabs are voting in droves.
But this time, the public will understand better who really cares about the security of the state.”