Foreign Minister Lieberman at press conference in Knesset, March 25, 2014.
Foreign Minister Lieberman at press conference in Knesset, March 25, 2014. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
Text size

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Tuesday that he does not believe Habayit Hayehudi party will leave the coalition if Israel releases Israeli Arab prisoners as part of a deal to extend peace talks with the Palestinians.

Speaking at a press conference with his Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz, Lieberman was referring to recent threats made by Habayit Hayeudi leader and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. "There is no chance Habayit Hayehudi will leave the coalition," the foreign minister said. "I'm sure of it. There is no correlation between their declarations and the reality on the ground. I wouldn't take our friend Naftali Bennett's threats seriously."

Lieberman also responded to the statements by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said that if the peace talks remained deadlocked he would ask Israel to assume responsibility for running the West Bank and "hand over the keys" to Israel. "You can't make new threats every day," Lieberman said. "This is not how you conduct negotiations. We are open to continuing the negotiations and the ball is in the Palestinian court."

Ten days ago, amid reports that Israel and the Palestinians made progress on a deal to extend peace negotiations – an agreement that would include the release of 14 Arab-Israeli prisoners - Bennett released a statement threatening to dismantle the coalition.  

"If the deal under discussion includes the release of murderers with Israeli citizenship, it will be a blow to Israel's sovereignty," Bennett said at the time. "Not only that, but the Palestinians wouldn't even have withdrawn their applications to join international treaties. Should such a proposal come before the cabinet, Habayit Hayehudi will oppose it. And should it be passed by the cabinet, Habayit Hayehudi will withdraw from the government. Enough is enough. It will be a case of blackmail and capitulation to terror that we cannot accept. That is the minimal possible degree of national pride and we cannot agree with it being trampled on."

A day later, Habayit Hayehudi members convened and made Bennett's stance the official party position. In the days since, there has been virtually no communication between Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a scheduled meeting between the two was canceled due to the political tensions.