Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett on Monday congratulated the top decision-making body of the ruling Likud party on its decision a day earlier to push for formal Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank and to allow for unchecked construction in the settlements.
Addressing a faction meeting in the Knesset, Bennett, the education minister, called on the opposition Yesh Atid party to follow Likud’s example and “abandon the idea of Islamic State sitting on Route 6,” referring to the proximity of the trans-Israel highway to the West Bank and implying that a Palestinian state, which the left supports, would fall into the hands of extremists.
He accused Yair Lapid, the head of Yesh Atid, of cloaking his leftist beliefs, saying he was Meretz — a left-wing party — “dressed up in blue and white,” the colors of the Israeli flag. “You can go 20 times to the Western Wall [Judaism’s most venerated site]… [but] in the end Lapid’s vision is to divide Jerusalem,” he charged.
In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, an alliance between Bennett and Lapid secured the entry of Yesh Atid into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition at the expense of the ultra-Orthodox parties.
The vote to support the annexation of parts of the West Bank, made Sunday by the Likud Central Committee, is not binding on its Knesset lawmakers, but does carry political sway as MKs need the support of the 3,000-member body to succeed in the primaries.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was also subjected to a tongue-lashing by Bennett over the opposition of Liberman’s secular Yisrael Beytenu party to the so-called mini-markets bill, aimed at preventing convenience stores from opening on Shabbat.
The bill is scheduled to come up for its final plenum votes on Monday evening.
The coalition could lose the vote if Yisrael Beytenu sides with the opposition, which has been refusing to pull one of its lawmakers out of the vote to offset the absence of Likud MK Yehudah Glick, whose wife died on Monday morning.
“I call on all parties to decide: Do they want a government or do they not want a government? People’s behavior is irresponsible. In my experience, this [kind of thing] is what breaks up a government.”
All coalition parties have their pet issues, but they are also responsible for supporting coalition bills, Bennett added. With its “childish” behavior, he charged, Yisrael Beytenu risks bringing down the government and sparking new elections.
Liberman hit back at Bennett’s warning that a failure to pass the bill could bring early elections, accusing Bennett’s Jewish Home of having a history of bringing down right-wing governments.
“Since the good old days of the National Religious Party, the Jewish Home in all its variations has a long tradition of toppling right-wing governments,” Liberman told Ynet.
Liberman described Bennett and Shas leader Aryeh Deri, the bill’s main backer, as “messianic.” He accused them of “trying to impose their authority on the residents of Israel,” which he says runs counter to the views of Zeev Jabotinsky, the godfather of Israel’s right-wing.
The defense minister also addressed criticism over Yisrael Beytenu and the opposition’s refusal to have one MK skip the final votes on the bill to compensate for the absence Glick.
“I don’t understand why [they] need to insist on holding a vote on the minimarket bill in the Knesset when one of the Likud members is burying his wife,” he says.
Liberman criticized the coalition for refusing to delay the second and third plenum readings for the bill, which are scheduled for Monday evening.