Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was furious with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and wanted to fire her Saturday night for meeting, against his wishes, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in London, the Hebrew daily Maariv reported Thursday. He backed down only when it became clear that losing Livni would endanger his coalition, the report said.
Netanyahu did not approve the meeting in advance, and only found out about it a few hours before it took place, when on his flight back from Japan last Thursday. Moreover, according to the report, Livni did not tell the prime minister, who was likely alerted when one of the individuals involved in planning the meeting informed one of Netanyahu’s staffers.
The prime minister was enraged when he was told about Livni’s plans, the report said. Observers were quoted as saying, “We have never seen Bibi this furious.”
Netanyahu called Livni, who claimed she intended to inform him about the meeting once all the details were finalized, and that she had tried to contact him while he was in Japan, but was unable to do so because of the time difference.
Livni reportedly added that she was not planning to negotiate, but was simply meeting the PA president, something no Israeli minister had done in a year. She said that it was important to sound out Abbas on the recently collapsed talks, and what he had in mind for the future regarding peace with Israel and reconciliation with Hamas.
Livni, Israel’s chief envoy to the peace talks, stressed to Abbas the gravity of his having established a unity government between his Fatah party and Hamas, according to Channel 2 News last Friday. In the wake of the unity pact, Israel’s key security cabinet, of which Livni is a member, voted unanimously to suspend negotiations with the PA, saying Israel could not hold peace talks with a government supported by Hamas, an Islamic terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction.
Netanyahu made it clear that Livni was forbidden from meeting Abbas because the government had decided to suspend talks with the Palestinians in April, the report said.
Livni did not heed Netanyahu’s instructions, and proceeded to meet with Abbas last Thursday night. The encounter came on the heels of separate meetings, in London, between the two and US Secretary of State John Kerry, just weeks after the top US diplomat’s relentless bid to broker a peace treaty came screeching to a halt.
Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid, who met with Netanyahu Thursday night just after he was told that Livni had gone ahead and met with Abbas, also reportedly said they had never seen the prime minister so angry.
Netanyahu assumed that the US administration had pushed behind the scenes for the meeting, Maariv reported, and phoned US officials to convey his anger over their meddling in internal Israeli affairs. However, it soon became clear to him that the Americans were not involved, and were just as surprised as the prime minister.
Netanyahu called coalition chairman Yariv Levin of Likud to a meeting Friday, and told the lawmaker that he suspected that Livni was planning to join the Labor party, which could enable her to topple the government by joining up, too, with the ultra-Orthodox parties and Yesh Atid.
He was determined to fire Livni, until he was warned by Lapid, who was involved in talks between the two camps, that losing Lvni’s Hatnua party would mean the end of his coalition. Levin also reportedly warned that Netanyahu would not be able to govern with a narrow majority of 62 votes.
By Saturday night, Netanyahu had calmed down sufficiently to decide not to fire Livni. His staff then told the press that Netanyahu knew about the meeting ahead of time.
But that did not spare Livni from withering criticism, as the right-wing Jewish Home party called on her to quit the ruling coalition on Saturday night, saying that her meeting was in breach of official policy.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.