Education Minister Naftali Bennett told Sunday’s cabinet meeting that Palestinians are not preventing their children from committing stabbing attacks because they know parents of slain assailants receive a grant and a stipend from the Palestinian Authority.
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A source who attended the meeting said that Bennett’s remarks caused consternation among some of the ministers. “Several of those present squirmed uncomfortably in their seats,” the source said.
Bennett made the remarks during a discussion that followed a security briefing by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot about how to reduce the motivation of Palestinian youths to carry out attacks and how to increase deterrence against stabbings.
Several ministers said that Israel should work to block transfers of funds from the PA to terrorists’ families. The ministers were told that every month Israel deducts what it estimates the PA pays to terrorists’ families before it pays over the taxes it collects on the PA’s behalf.
At that point Bennett said that this deduction is not enough, and that an effort must be made to keep the families from getting money. He said the fact that families know they’ll get funds from the PA reduces their motivation to prevent their children from carrying out attacks.
Bennett refused to comment for this report, saying the debate had been classified as top secret.
During his security survey, Eisenkot refused to retract the remarks he made last week about the army’s rules of engagement. He took out a transcript of what he had told high school students in Bat Yam, a suburb of Tel Aviv, and read it to the ministers.
During a visit to the high school last Wednesday, Eisenkot addressed the recent wave of terrorism, saying that troops can act only if there is threat to life. "I don't want a soldier to empty a magazine on a girl with scissors," he said.
According to a source who was present at Sunday's cabinet meeting, Eisenkot claimed his words had been taken out of context and blown up by the media. Despite this claim, ministers Yuval Steinitz and Ofir Akunis expressed dissatisfaction with Eisenkot’s remarks. Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel even asked Eisenkot to “find an opportunity to correct his statement.”
At the start of the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the disputes over Eisenkot’s remarks on the rules of engagement were “futile arguments.” Netanyahu said that Eisenkot had stated the obvious and that in any case this is how the IDF behaves. “Everything said afterward stemmed from a misunderstanding or a desire for political goading,” Netanyahu said. “Both are unacceptable. We must put this aside and move on.”
At the entrance to the cabinet meeting room several ministers stood before the cameras and expressed their support for Eisenkot’s comments. Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel said that Eisenkot had highlighted the fact that the IDF was the most moral army. “His comments were correct and I back him,” she said.
Housing Minister Yoav Galant responded similarly. “It’s the chief of staff’s obligation to establish the rules of engagement and to explain them, and I’m glad he did so,” Galant said. “When fighting terror we must use the minimum force necessary and not the maximum possible, and the chief of staff clarified what the policy has to be and I think that’s good.”
Interior Minister Arye Dery said that Eisenkot was an honest and ethical person who manages the army well. “I say he needn’t worry, we are giving him full backing,” Dery said. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan argued that he had no criticism of Eisenkot’s remarks and blamed the media for inflating the comments and taking them out of context. “The chief of staff has the support of all the cabinet members,” Erdan said.
After Eisenkot made his remarks, a student asked the IDF chief to comment on the military's rules of engagement, which the student said put soldiers at risk. Eisenkot asserted that the rules were satisfactory and correct, saying the "IDF cannot speak in slogans, such as 'if someone comes to kill you, arise to kill them first,' or 'everyone who carries scissors should be killed.'" Troops can act only if there is threat to life, Eisenkot said.