Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman renewed their public spat on Sunday morning, with each trying to portray the other as soft on terrorism.
Bennett, whose religious-nationalist Jewish Home party will battle with Liberman’s secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu over the votes of many hawkish Israelis in the upcoming Knesset elections, accused the defense minister of “ruining Israel’s deterrence” against Palestinian terror attacks.
Bennett was referring to a bill pushed by his party, proposing to transfer families of terror convicts away from their home communities and resettle then elsewhere in the West Bank as a punitive measure.
“What Liberman isn’t willing to do via the Defense Ministry, we will do today via legislation,” Bennett tweeted. “Over the last two years, Liberman ruined Israel’s deterrence. Terrorists aren’t afraid. They know their homes won’t be demolished, that their families will receive NIS 12,000 ($3,250) per month [from the Palestinian Authority] and they will be glorified as martyrs.”
He added that his party would present the bill for a vote in the Knesset plenum on Sunday, so that terrorists “will be afraid again.”
In response, Liberman’s party said it would “support any bill that aids the fight against terror.”
But, the statement continued, “that doesn’t change the fact that the Jewish Home has been for about a year thwarting the passage” of a bill promoted by Yisrael Beytenu setting the death penalty as a possible punishment for terror offenses.
That bill was the key election promise by Liberman’s party before the 2015 vote, but there has been very little progress on it since.
Last month, the education minister criticized Liberman for failing to demolish terrorists’ homes in the West Bank, claiming that there were 102 such homes that had been prepared for demolition and were still standing.
“We need to destroy the home of the terrorist. Not measure, destroy,” Bennett said in a swipe at the defense minister.
Asked by Army Radio what he would do differently if he were defense minister, Bennett said, “Everything,” adding that Israel should not make any further territorial concessions to the Palestinians.
“I would not give another centimeter to the Arabs. We have to drop the idea that if we give them more territory the world will love us,” he said. “The defense minister is ready to give up Nokdim, his home, for a Palestinian state. I am not prepared to do this.”
Liberman’s party hit back at Bennett at the time, mockingly calling him a “hilltop youth,” a reference to far-right groups that set up illegal settlements in the West Bank.
“The hilltop youth from Ra’anana and big talker from Jewish Home continues to play political games at the expense of the security of Israeli citizens,” it said in a statement.
Days earlier, Liberman declared that he had “deleted” Bennett from his mind after the latter accused him of failing to resolve ongoing violence along the border with the Gaza Strip.
“Bennett doesn’t care — neither about education nor about security. As far as I’m concerned the man has been deleted; starting tomorrow he simply does not exist,” Liberman told several media outlets.
Bennett had slammed Liberman’s policy on Gaza, saying it was insufficiently aggressive toward the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip.
“Bennett is brazenly lying,” Liberman said. “What softness is he talking about? Just last Friday seven rioters were killed and over 500 injured and not a single Israeli was hurt.”
“The education minister doesn’t say a word about education and so it is clear that he doesn’t care about education or security,” he said. “There is a real dispute here — that will remain with us as we enter the election process — between a bizarre, sleepwalking, messianic right, and a responsible right. The question [is] whether we want a Jewish state or a bi-national state.”
Bennett, in response, told Army Radio that Liberman’s approach to Gaza would only elicit more violence from Hamas.
“The person responsible for security is Defense Minister Liberman,” Bennett said. “For the last half-year I have clearly said that the policy Liberman is leading is weak. The policy toward Gaza is a leftist policy that will ultimately lead to a full-on flareup. The situation will be unbearable.”
Weekly Gaza border protests, dubbed the “Great March of Return,” have been going on since March 30 and have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks, bombings and attempted border breaches as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.
Egyptian mediators have been working intensively to maintain calm, and also hope to bring about national reconciliation between the Hamas terror group, which seized Gaza by force in 2007 and openly seeks Israel’s destruction, and the West Bank-based administration of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas says the Israeli-Egyptian blockade over the Strip must be lifted and has vowed to continue the weekly protests, in which more than 160 Palestinians have been killed since March. The terror group has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. A Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli soldier in July.
Israel says it maintains the blockade to prevent Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, from importing weaponry.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.