Amid Conflict, Vote on Lieberman's Appointment to Defense Portfolio Postponed

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Netanyahu and Bennett in the Knesset. February 12, 2014.Credit: Emil Salman

A Knesset vote to approve Avigdor Lieberman's appointment as defense minister, which was scheduled to take place Monday, has been postponed following the confrontation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

The minister insists that a designated military attaché be appointed for the cabinet members, to keep them abreast of security and defense affairs and to prepare them to do their job. Bennett also demands more fact-finding tours involving the ministers, and their easier access to information.

Political figures estimate that the vote will not take place before Wednesday.

A cabinet vote on Lieberman's appointment must take place before the Knesset vote. The Prime Minister's Bureau confirmed on Sunday afternoon that a cabinet telephone vote on Lieberman's appointment didn’t take place because of the confrontation. However, at a security cabinet meeting that took place on Sunday afternoon, no mention was made of Bennett's demand to reform the panel.

Bennett vowed earlier Sunday that he "will continue to defend Israel's soldiers whether we are part of the government or not." The education minister added that his party wasn't "requesting jobs or money. We want to guard the lives of our soldiers."

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of Bennett's party, told Army Radio that they were prepared to leave the coalition and go to elections unless the party's reform demands are met.

Likud sources said they believed the differences could be bridged. However, an individual close to Netanyahu said, “It doesn’t look like Bennett wants to resolve the crisis at this point, and it depends on him more than Netanyahu.”

Likud has also renewed its efforts to bring Zionist Union into the coalition, according to a Zionist Union source, in the wake of the crisis between Netanyahu and Bennett.

The cabinet was originally set to vote by telephone on Sunday on approving Lieberman’s appointment. A majority was expected to approve the move, even if Habayit Hayehudi's ministers voted against it.  But the appointment is also set to come up for a vote in the Knesset on Monday – and if Netanyahu and Bennett haven’t smoothed out their differences, and Habayit Hayehudi moves into the opposition, a majority of 62 Knesset members will vote against the appointment.