Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to embark on a major diplomatic effort to disprove outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s accusations that, under his premiership, Israel and the Likud Party are heading toward the extreme Right, senior Likud sources said Saturday night.
Netanyahu said Friday there is a great diplomatic opportunity on the horizon because of certain developments in the Middle East and, therefore, he has made efforts to bring the Zionist Union into a unity government. The prime minister said he is “leaving the door open in the most serious fashion” for the Zionist Union to join the government in the future.
Likud sources said Netanyahu is aware that Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog could no longer join the government after Netanyahu decided on an agreement with Yisrael Beytenu and to appoint its leader Avigdor Liberman as defense minister in Ya’alon’s stead rather than complete a deal with Herzog.
The sources said Netanyahu is keeping the foreign affairs portfolio for himself, because he wants to personally handle the diplomatic challenges ahead, including a French initiative and the last few months of the tenure of US President Barack Obama.
Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, who will be one of the featured speakers at Sunday’s Jerusalem Post Conference, has a written commitment from Netanyahu that would require him to be appointed foreign minister, but Netanyahu is expected to wait with the appointment, which could upset other senior Likud figures, in part because Katz opposes a Palestinian state and Netanyahu is already receiving international criticism over the Liberman appointment.
Ya’alon announced on social media on Friday that he was resigning “following the recent conduct” of Netanyahu, and “in light of my lack of faith in him.” Ya’alon notified Netanyahu of his resignation from the government on Friday morning. He turned down a last-minute offer by the prime minister to serve as foreign minister and a lastditch effort to keep him as defense minister.
Speaking at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Ya’alon said that despite his decision to resign from the government and the Knesset, he has no intention of stepping away from political life permanently and he will contend for the leadership of the country again in the future.
He said he entered the political sphere as an emissary to work toward the betterment of Israel and, in particular, toward its improved security.
“In every one of my actions and decisions, I weighed the safety of Israel and the Israeli people, as well as the well-being of the nation above all else,” Ya’alon said. He painted the motives for his resignation as ideological rather than political.
“Much to my dismay, recently I have found myself in conflicts of professional and ethical nature with the prime minister, as well as with a number of ministers of Knesset,” he said.
“Israel, as well as the Likud Party, has been taken over by dangerous and extreme elements." The Likud of today “is not the Likud of Jabotinsky and Begin that I joined.
“Unfortunately, senior politicians have chosen incitement as means to hold on to power, rather than uniting society.”
Liberman will replace Ya’alon following the completion of a coalition agreement with Yisrael Beytenu. Until then, Netanyahu will hold the post.
Ya’alon would “certainly” brief his successor should Liberman seek his advice when taking up his position this week, sources close to Ya’alon said Saturday night, following media reports that claimed no such briefing would take place.
Ya’alon, will hold a farewell ceremony for the General Staff at the Kirya on Sunday. He is also expected to hold a similar ceremony at the Defense Ministry.
Netanyahu and Ya’alon had sparred over the defense minister’s support for embattled IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan and Netanyahu’s support for a soldier who shot to death a wounded and incapacitated Palestinian terrorist in Hebron on March 24.
Last week, Netanyahu summoned Ya’alon after he said IDF commanders should continue to speak their minds on issues of morality and ethics, in an apparent reference to the controversy that followed Golan’s Holocaust Remembrance Day comments expressing concern at growing Israeli extremism.
Netanyahu reacted to the resignation of Ya’alon on Friday, saying he wishes Ya’alon would have accepted his offer to become foreign minister, and rejecting Ya’alon’s claim that the defense minister was leaving the government and the Knesset because he has a “lack of faith” in Netanyahu.
“The change in portfolios did not stem from a crisis of faith between us, it stemmed from the need to expand the coalition in order to bring stability to Israel in the face of the challenges it is facing,” Netanyahu said.
“I believe that if Bogie Ya’alon was not asked to leave the Defense Ministry and enter the Foreign Ministry, what he calls ‘a crisis of faith between us’ would not have developed and he wouldn’t have resigned,” Netanyahu said, using Ya’alon’s nickname.
Netanyahu also rejected Ya’alon’s claims that the Likud is being taken over by extremist elements.
“The Likud believes in democracy,” he said. “The Likud is a liberal nationalist movement. A movement that is obligated to preserving Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The Likud represents the main strain of thought among the people, and in doing so is obligated to the security of the country and the desire for peace.”
Netanyahu also clarified his position on why he had invited the Yisrael Beytenu party into the coalition in a surprise announcement made Thursday.
“The change in the distribution of portfolios was not due to a crises of confidence between myself and [Ya’alon], it was due to the need to expand the coalition in order to bring stability to the government so we can tackle challenges ahead,” Netanyahu said.
At the moment, Netanyahu governs the thinnest majority in the history of the Knesset with a one seat advantage in the 120-member parliamentary institution. With Yisrael Beytenu’s entry into the coalition, the government expands from 61 seats to 66.
Sources close to the prime minister said in response to Ya’alon’s remarks at the press conference that: “It is interesting that Ya’alon lost faith in Netanyahu only when he was losing his job as defense minister. Just when he understood that in order to widen the government he would have to give up the defense portfolio, however, prior to that he had Ya’alon’s support.”
President Reuven Rivlin responded to Ya’alon’s comments by expressing his appreciation of the former defense minister: “I am greatly saddened by the resignation of Moshe Ya’alon. Against the background of recent events, the break from political life he is taking is understandable, and even appropriate, but at the same time represents a great loss to us all.”
The White House responded to Ya’alon’s departure by saying it looks forward to working with the next defense minister, adding, “Our bonds of friendship are unbreakable, and our commitment to the security of Israel remains absolute.”
Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick, who was born in the US, is the next person on the Likud list and will become an MK in place of Ya’alon on Monday.
United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush will quit the Knesset Sunday due to the so-called Norwegian law, which allows a minister or deputy minister to quit and be replaced by the next name on the faction’s list. He will be replaced by former MK Ya’acov Asher.Hannah Broad contributed to this report.