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First Sa’ar, Now Peretz – Who Will Be Next to Bolt Netanyahu's Cabinet?

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A cabinet meeting led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, Oct. 7, 2014.Credit: Mark Israel Salem

On Saturday night, the government of Israel faced its possible dissolution, the first time this has happened since it took office 20 months ago. This followed the defiant and provocative interview given by outgoing Environment Minister Amir Peretz to Channel 2, in which he hurled serious, personal accusations at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That same evening a furious Netanyahu contacted the head of Peretz’s Hatnuah party, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, informing her of his intention to fire Peretz at the next day’s cabinet meeting.

Livni was dismayed. The significance of such a step was clear: If Peretz were fired, she would have to unwillingly and unhappily take her whole faction out of the coalition. What an embarrassment for her, to be yanked out because of Peretz! An exit forced on her by the third-ranking party member? This was not her view of things. She was coordinated with Yair Lapid in such matters. For her, the time wasn’t ripe yet, despite the fact that for eight months she has gotten nothing out of being in this government. Any link between the Netanyahu government and a diplomatic process, her purview, exists only in the feverish mind of John Kerry.

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz announcing his resignation on November 9, 2014.Credit: Nir Kedar

Livni urged Netanyahu to wait 24 hours, to cool off. The premier was willing to consider waiting but did not commit himself. On Sunday morning, Livni and Peretz met before the cabinet meeting. She informed him that it was unacceptable that he wait calmly for Netanyahu to fire him. Peretz obeyed and announced that he would tender his resignation at the end of the cabinet meeting. Squeezing some extra sparks out of the situation, he provoked Netanyahu and caused a heated exchange that was meant to look good on the evening news and in the next day’s papers.

Now, 24 hours later, eight days after the resignation of Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, the fractious, shrunken and cantankerous government is waiting for developments: Where will the next conflict erupt, weakening its immune system further?

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett is hinting at a crisis over his objection to the proposed zero-VAT law, the darling of Finance Minister Lapid. Bennett may require a transfer of hundreds of millions of shekels as a condition for supporting Lapid on this bill. Netanyahu himself sharply criticized Lapid on Sunday for refusing to take certain economic steps. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman hasn’t yet been heard from. He was seen in a lengthy huddle with Lapid outside the cabinet room. Livni joined from time to time as the prime minister’s associates looked on with displeasure.

The big question is whether by the end of December, this country will have an approved budget. It depends on two people, Netanyahu and Lapid. If they want it, it will happen and the government will survive for a few more months. If they don’t, there will be elections in the spring.

The issue of Peretz’s replacement at the Environmental Protection Ministry is not really on people’s minds, but it occupies Hatnuah members. Second-placed Amram Mitzna, who fervently wished to enter the government when it was set up, is now in fierce opposition to it. He has too much integrity to swear allegiance to Bibi.

The active Meir Sheetrit, formerly a presidential candidate, seems to be the one. It’s less than the presidency, which he sought, but more than his current position as party chairman. He will get the nod unless that mysterious affair with the house help rears its head again.

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