Livni paints PM as coward, incompetent in Knesset speech

'We won't forgive you,' opposition leader says of budget cuts, 'because this was something you were supposed to understand'.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni attacked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's economic policy from the floor of the Knesset on Wednesday afternoon, branding the prime minister a coward for giving in on negotiations and "zigzagging" on the budget. Livni's comments came in response to Netanyahu's speech in the Knesset, a speech given after 40 MKs signed a petition demanding a hearing regarding Netanyahu's economic policy. Sometimes, she said, there are prime ministers who don't understand economics - "but you understand, yet you collapse in the face of the wrong people, on the wrong things." "Once Bibi had a 'way'... but we saw you fold and zigzag for nothing. You know that in the story about the biennial budget, there is nothing connected to the economic budget. We won't forgive you for that, because of all things, this was something that you were supposed to understand." Livni mocked the prime minister for the number of times that he went back and forth on budget clauses. Initially, the Finance Ministry listed a number of social cuts within the proposed budget, including in-patient hospitalization fees of NIS 50 per day and cuts to child subsidies. "Imposing VAT on fruit and vegetables is incomprehensible," Livni added, noting the one "social cut" that remained in the latest version of the budget that was approved by the government. "It is simply not right, and it's clear that ultimately it will fall." Livni also blasted Netanyahu's coalition negotiations. "Prime minister, you speak well, but your follow-through isn't great. You have turned the citizens of Israel into concerned citizens. There is no government in Jerusalem," she said. "You gave [Israel Beiteinu chairman and Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman everything he dreamed of asking for - and then I understood that the prime minister was scared." The Kadima chairwoman also fired arrows at Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "Sometimes it is understandable that the prime minister is pressurable - but at the hands of Ehud Barak? He won't leave the government even if you want him to," Livni said. "He will say something about folding arms and looking in the whites of people's eyes - and will stay." "On the matter of the VAT," she said, speaking to Barak, "be a man and give in. In the end, it looks like you'll give in, and it will happen even if you are trying not to." Livni's speech - like Netanyahu's before it - was repeatedly interrupted by calls from MKs which Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin was hard pressed to keep in check. Danny Danon became the only one of the many Likud MKs who called out during Livni's speech to be removed from the hall after he called out in protest of the fact that Livni consistently refered to the prime minister as "Bibi" - a violation of Knesset protocol that forbids referring to officials by their first name (or nickname) during speeches in the plenum. Netanyahu, however, defended his economic policy in the speech made immediately before Livni's. "We are not in the midst of ordinary times," he said, "because in addition to the economic crisis we are facing a number of other challenges. This reality requires us all - the coalition and the opposition - to break from partisanship and to work together."