Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a warning on Monday to chief negotiator Tzipi Livni that any future measures she takes to advance peace talks independently and without government consent would be subject to penalization, but did not specify what the punishment might be.
Netanyahu was said to have weighed firing the justice minister after she met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in London on May 15. Livni said she was not scolded by Netanyahu, and that he was aware of the meeting in advance.
Speaking at a Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu said, “I hope we won’t see a recurrence of this incident, and if we do, we will weigh how to act,” Walla News reported.
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party who is close to the prime minister, in an interview on Channel 2 on Saturday said Netanyahu had thus far treated Livni “with a certain amount of leniency.” 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 group Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel. Livni voted in favor of the decision.
Livni, head of 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 she 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 last 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 as long as she could safeguard and promote the principles and policies for which she had been elected.