Economy Minister Naftali Bennett accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of terrorism Thursday over claims that Abbas pays millions of shekels every month to convicted Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli prisons.
In an interview with Israel Radio, Bennett said that Abbas was a “mega-terrorist” because he used PA money to encourage the murder of Jews. He asserted that some of the prisoners were earning NIS 12,000 ($3,500) a month from the PA.
Bennett, who is leader of the national-religious Jewish Home party, also criticized president-elect Reuven Rivlin for praising Abbas after the Palestinian leader called for the release of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers. Rivlin had said that Abbas’s appeal was “an opportunity to restore trust between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” but Bennett dismissed Abbas’s statements as “pathetic” unless backed up with real actions.
His comments sparked off a rhetorical war between members of Bennett’s party and MK Amram Mitzna (Hatnua), a more left-leaning member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, who said Bennett’s party was like Hamas, minus the terrorism.
Speaking to Israel Radio, Mitzna said that, just like Hamas, the Jewish Home party wouldn’t recognize previous agreements that Israel has signed with the Palestinians. He contended that since the government expects that the Palestinians, including Hamas, honor the agreements, it should demand that Jewish Home do the same.
“If you take Hamas and remove from it the terror aspect, to which I’m obviously completely opposed, don’t you basically have an organization sitting in the Israel government that has the same goals as Hamas?” he said. “Have we heard the Jewish Home say that it stands behind the agreements that the government has signed, such as the Oslo Accords and other agreements?”
Mitzna called on Netanyahu to remove Bennett from the security cabinet over his comments.
Netanyahu for his part sharply reprimanded Mitzna for his statements, saying that while differences of opinion in the Knesset were acceptable, “one must stay within the lines of truth and decency. Mitzna crossed both those lines.”
Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman, a member of the Jewish Home party, denounced Mitzna’s “barbaric” statements as incitement and demanded that the head of Mitzna’s Hatnua party, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, apologize on behalf of the party.
In a post on his Facebook page, Wortzman scoffed that Hatnua, as a small coalition partner with only six MKs, had no place speaking out against the larger Jewish Home, which holds 12 Knesset seats.
“Hatnua is the most insignificant part of the coalition,” he wrote. “Should Mitzna teach us morality? Mitzna’s behavior is barbaric and I expect him to apologize.”