Bennett Threatens to Veto Lieberman Appointment as Israeli Defense Minister

If crisis worsens, education minister's Habayit Hayehudi party could find itself out of Israel's governing coalition. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked says party is prepared for elections if reform demands aren't met.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Naftali Bennett, Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman.
Naftali Bennett, Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman.Credit: Alex Kolomoisky, Olivier Fitoussi, Amit Shaabi
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Education Minister Naftali Bennett is threatening to veto Avigdor Lieberman’s appointment as defense minister on Sunday, as his Habayit Hayehudi party and Likud have yet to resolve their differences over Bennett’s demands to reform the security cabinet.

Bennett, a senior coalition partner, said on Saturday night he has not changed his stance and that, therefore, his party is prepared to veto Lieberman’s appointment on Sunday.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of Habayit Hayehudi, told Army Radio Sunday morning that the party is 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 Prime Minister Benjamin 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 is set to vote by telephone on Sunday on approving Lieberman’s appointment. A majority is expected to approve the move, even if Habayit Hayehudi's ministers vote against it. But the appointment is also 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.

Another possibility is that the vote will be postponed until the crisis is resolved. But the coalition’s new chairman, MK David Bitan (Likud), said the vote would not be postponed. “We expect Bennett to come out of the corner he has painted himself into over this.”

Bennett wants basic changes to be made in the way the security cabinet works, the most important of which is the appointment of a military secretary for its members. Netanyahu told Bennett on Saturday he would recommend ways to update the ministers and prepare them for meetings, but Bennett rejected the idea.

Habayit Hayehudi said in a statement that "Neutralizing the cabinet puts human life in clear and present danger, and no spin will cover it. The demand to repair the failures of Operation Protective Edge and to fix the security cabinet still stands."

Coalition talks with Herzog

If the crisis worsens, Habayit Hayehudi could find itself out of the coalition, which will then have only 58 members. In this context a source in Zionist Union told Haaretz that "Likud has started conveying significant messages to us since Bennett rejected Netanyahu's proposal and made it clear that they want us to come into the coalition."

But the source added that it was not clear whether "this was a real move or one intended to pressure Bennett, to show him that Bibi [Netanyahu] has other options."

The leader of the Zionist Union, MK Isaac Herzog, vehemently denied such talks. According to his inner circle, "No proposals and no invitations have come. The prime minister can't use us to scare Bennett and leave him in the coalition."

A senior member of Likud also denied there were talks with Zionist Union, although he added: "The door for them to enter the government is still open. It depends on them."

Members of Herzog's faction criticized him over the weekend for not coming down harder on Netanyahu, claiming that Herzog still behaves as if he hopes to enter the government. "Herzog doesn't stop coddling Netanyahu and doesn't attack him personally on any issue, even after he said the door to joining the coalition had slammed shut," a source said.

Thus, while Herzog's faction colleagues MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Tzipi Livni took the prime minister sharply to task for the state comptroller's report about his conduct, Herzog has yet to mention the report's findings.

Herzog's bureau responded: "The bunch of subversives on the fanatical left prove that their highest task is to besmirch the chairman of the party, after the harsh things he said against the prime minister in the Knesset and at the Israel Democracy Institute conference. The Zionist Union faces a choice between the takeover of the fanatical left that destroys Knesset seats and protecting the character of Zionist Union as a left-center party headed by Herzog and recovering the votes that the fanatical left sent to Lapid," the statement said, referring to Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid. The latter, the statement added, "is silent and hardly opens his mouth against Netanyahu."



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