Hatnua, Bayit Yehudi exchange accusations of incitement on prisoner release vote

"What starts with spitting can end in murder," Hatnua minister says.

FREED PRISONER Atiya Salem Moussa 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
FREED PRISONER Atiya Salem Moussa 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The rhetoric between ministers and MKs from Hatnua and Bayit Yehudi grew increasingly bellicose as the parties stood on opposite sides of the prisoner release debate before and after the government vote on the matter Sunday.
After the Ministerial Committee for Legislation rejected a bill by Bayit Yehudi MKs to prohibit prisoner releases, chief negotiator, Hatnua leader and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni accused Bayit Yehudi of shirking the joint responsibility all ministers have for the government’s decisions, regardless of how they voted.
“The responsibility is on all ministers in the government, even ministers who don’t understand how the government works and even those who supported the decision [to release prisoners] through silence or in exchange for [settlement] construction,” Livni said.
Meanwhile, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel said the bill’s rejection gave Livni more time “to play pretend and hold talks with the Palestinians.”
Earlier on Sunday, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz accused Bayit Yehudi of incitement, comparing its messages to those leading to the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
“I think this militancy leads first to spitting and could reach murder.
Bayit Yehudi cannot forget that, because they were there, they remember those times and cannot allow the seeds of trouble to grow again,” Peretz told Army Radio.
Senior Citizens Minister Uri Orbach justified his party’s rhetoric, explaining to Army Radio that he thinks Hatnua is the main party pressuring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to make concessions.
“We want to influence this government, and opposing a prisoner release is part of our influence,” Orbach said. “Amir Peretz’s cries of gevalt [dismay] and ‘incitement, incitement’ from Tzipi Livni will not silence us.”
Bayit Yehudi spoke out against those saying a prisoner release is the price for building in settlements.
“We in Bayit Yehudi have always opposed a prisoner release and will continue doing all we can to prevent it,” Ariel said. “I suggest that Livni, who speaks of the sanctity of democracy, bring MK Orit Struck’s bill against freeing prisoners to a vote, instead of dealing in cheap media manipulations so [Livni] can keep talking to [Palestinian chief negotiator] Saeb Erekat.”
Still, Hatnua MK Meir Sheetrit insisted that “Bayit Yehudi brought the prisoner release. Their demand from the prime minister became more and more resolute each day; they pressured the prime minister so he wouldn’t freeze settlement construction.”
Meanwhile, opposition parties backed Hatnua’s position.
Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) said “Netanyahu knows very well that he had two options – freeing prisoners or freezing construction in isolated settlements – and for political reasons, he chose freeing prisoners. This decision was the worse of the two, and is difficult and outrageous, but from the minute that was the deal made with the US, any violation means backing out from the little that was thus far achieved in talks with the Palestinians.”
Netanyahu must decide if he is a leader or if he’s giving in to the pressures of the extreme right in his own party and in Bayit Yehudi, Yacimovich added.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On pointed out that prisoner releases and settlement construction are not just a political issue between two parties in the coalition.
“The success or failure of diplomatic negotiations are not meant to determine the political future of Livni or [Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali] Bennett, but will determine the fate of everyone who lives in this country,” Gal-On stated. “This argument covers up the twisted way this government works: Promoting talks by freeing prisoners and then putting an obstacle up by building hundreds of homes in the territories so God forbid the settlers won’t complain.”
The public argument between the two parties began Thursday, when Bayit Yehudi released a statement saying “releasing prisoners for the dubious privilege of Livni meeting with Erekat, is gravely wrong. With all due respect, stopping the release of murderers is even more important than the existence of Livni in the government.”
On Friday morning, a 17-year-old spat on MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua) and called him a heretic in his synagogue in the Lower Galilee community of Hoshaya, saying “this is for Rabbi Dov Lior.”
Lior was one of the rabbis who backed Tekuma, but stopped supporting the party when it became part of Bayit Yehudi. Stern criticized the rabbi in the Knesset earlier last week for saying that Ethiopians are not Jewish.
Stern complained about the assailant to the police, saying that he is sure the boy does not represent religious-Zionist youth, but that “we cannot ignore the phenomenon or the dangers it presents.”