Israel’s chief peace negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, will be fired if she meets again with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas against the wishes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a senior Likud minister said Saturday.
Netanyahu had thus far treated Livni “with a certain amount of mercy,” Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party who is close to the prime minister, said in an interview on Channel 2. But if she defied the prime minister again, “she will no longer be a minister.”
Livni met in London on May 15 with Abbas, and informed Netanyahu ahead of time that she was doing so. However, reports have indicated that Netanyahu told her not to go through with the session, and was furious when she ignored the request. Channel 2 quoted sources close to Netanyahu saying he would not tolerate a repeat occurrence.
All ministers must respect government policy, said Steinitz. The decision-making inner cabinet voted last month to suspend all negotiations with the Palestinians after Abbas approved a unity pact between his Fatah faction of the PLO and the Islamist extremist Hamas, which calls to destroy Israel. Livni voted in favor of the decision.
Livni, from the centrist Hatnua party, on Friday denied that she had been scolded by Netanyahu over her meeting with Abbas, and said she would meet with the Palestinian leader again if and when it was necessary.
In a defiant interview on Channel 2 News, Livni insisted that the prime minister knew of her meeting with Abbas ahead of time but dodged the question of whether Netanyahu had asked her not to go ahead with the meeting.
A report in the daily Maariv on Thursday suggested that Netanyahu was so furious over the rendezvous in London that he was ready to fire Livni, but held back because he feared his coalition might collapse.
On air Friday, Livni said that a one-on-one meeting with Netanyahu this week was policy-based, and did not involve a prime ministerial reprimand. “Should another meeting with [Abbas] be necessary, I will meet with him as I see fit,” she added.
Livni rejected calls by colleagues in the opposition to quit the coalition, saying that she could be more effective from within the government –particularly, according to her, in preventing Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and others from taking the country in an “irresponsible direction.” Bennett would be delighted for her to leave the coalition, she said, and thus to clear the field for his agenda, including unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank.
She was using “all the political power that I have” to thwart the extreme right, she said, noting sadly that her faction was smaller than it was in previous Knessets. “It’s important to be the gatekeeper against dangerous ideas.”
Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz told The Times of Israel this week that Livni ought to quit the government and tell the people of Israel that Netanyahu had prevented a peace deal.
Livni said she would stay in government for so long as she could safeguard and promote the principles and policies for which she had been elected.
Bennett said Friday that he supported Netanyahu’s talk of Israeli unilateral action in the West Bank as an alternative to negotiating with the Palestinians, referring to an interview published overnight Thursday.
Bennett made the remark on his Facebook page following an interview that the prime minister gave to Bloomberg, in which Netanyahu said that Israel may have to consider alternatives to talks in light of the recently collapsed negotiations.
While it was not clear whether the prime minister meant annexing mainly Jewish-settled territory or withdrawing from mainly Palestinian areas, the Jewish Home chief made plain he was backing annexation: “I hear talk of ‘Israel’s unilateral actions’– I support that,” he wrote.
“We are pushing for applying Israeli law unilaterally over Gush Etzion, Ariel, the Jordan Valley, Ma’aleh Adumim, Ofra, Alfe Menashe, the Ben Gurion Airport envelope, Samaria, Judea, and the rest of the Jewish settlement enterprise,” Bennett added. “It is time to do what is best for Israel.”
In her comments on Channel 2, Livni said that Bennett and his comrades in the Knesset were waiting for her to bolt the coalition so that “they could go wild as they please.” She said that as justice minister she is single-handedly blocking various undemocratic measures which Bennett and the settler lobby are trying to implement.
She said Bennett and the extreme right wanted to lead Israel in the “dangerous” and “irresponsible” direction of a single, binational state. “Peace is not around the corner,” she stressed. “It’s hard to attain. But those of us who believe in a Jewish, democratic Israel cannot give up because Bennett decided or because Abbas made bad decisions.”
Bennett’s idea of annexing large parts of the West Bank would reduce Israel to an international pariah in the first stage and a binational state in the second stage, said Livni.
Channel 2 reported that Bennett had presented a plan to Netanyahu to annex the Etzion Bloc as a first step. Livni said no such unilateral annexation would happen so long as she was in the government, or after that. “It will remain a post on Naftali Bennett’s Facebook page.”
As alternatives if the negotiations could not be restarted, Livni said Israel could freeze settlement expansion outside the major settlement blocs, but that it was premature to consider such options at present.
Unnamed sources in the Prime Minister’s Office told Haaretz on Friday that Netanyahu, in speaking of unilateral action, did not mean evacuating settlements. They said the prime minister was currently exploring Israel’s options and consulting with coalition members.