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Justice minister admits public ultimatum to Netanyahu was a mistake

Shaked denies she and Bennett decided to resign and then backtracked at last minute, but accepts that their party lost the political round

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on September 5, 2018. (Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on September 5, 2018. (Flash90)

Reflecting on a tumultuous week in Israeli politics, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked admitted that her Jewish Home party had erred in issuing a public ultimatum to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then retreating from an expected resignation from the coalition.

“Of course we made mistakes, but we learn from them. There are political rounds we lose,” she told the Yedioth Ahronot newspaper in an interview to be published in full on Friday.

In an excerpt published Thursday, Shaked denied that she and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of her party, had decided to resign from the coalition and backtracked at the last minute, but admitted, “We lost this political round.”

However, she said that the ultimatum was the correct move, although she acknowledged it was possible it should have been issued in private. “From our history with Netanyahu, we see that unfortunately only through such means can we achieve our goals,” she said.

Bennett had threatened to resign if he was not appointed defense minister instead of Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman. The latter had resigned the post, citing the government’s “capitulation to terror” in reaching a ceasefire with Hamas, following a recent deadly flareup with the terror group in Gaza. However, while Netanyahu did not accede to the demand and named himself defense minister, Bennett, rather than step down, remained in the coalition.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, left, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked deliver a statement during a press conference in the Knesset, November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Shaked said in the interview that Netanyahu — who is also acting foreign minister, health minister, and immigration absorption minister — should relinquish the defense portfolio because the massive workload means that ministries will ultimately be run by clerks.

“It’s not right that the prime minister is also holding the defense portfolio. The State of Israel needs a full-time defense minister, and Bennett is right for the job,” she said.

Shaked also dismissed speculation that her and Bennett’s flip-flop was due to a decision by a close adviser to Netanyahu to recruit the country’s national security adviser and a top rabbi to persuade Jewish Home’s ministers to stay in the coalition.

“This story did not have any effect on our decision, because our decision had already been made earlier. The head of the National Security Council spoke with [Rabbi] Druckman after we had already made a decision to stay and our speeches were already written,” said Shaked.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, on October 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Before his resignation last week, in which he also pulled his Yisrael Beytenu party out of the coalition, Liberman had for months been sparring with Bennett, with each side accusing the other of soft policies on terror, which, they said, were interpreted as weakness by Hamas.

On Sunday, in rebuffing Bennett’s demand for the defense portfolio, and declaring that he would keep the job for himself, Netanyahu called on his coalition members to not force early elections because Israel is in “one of our most complex periods in terms of security.”

On the following day, speaking at a joint press conference with Shaked at the Knesset, Bennett said that he had decided to “stand by the prime minister’s side” despite his ultimatum.

Opposition lawmakers ridiculed Bennett and Shaked, while Likud MKs praised them for their decision.

On Tuesday, Shaked expressed her lack of confidence that Netanyahu would be able to keep afloat his coalition, which, with Liberman’s departure, was reduced to 61 seats out of the Knesset’s 120.

“The prime minister chose to govern with a narrow coalition, so I wish him the best of luck,” she told a conference at Bar Ilan University.

Amid speculation that US President Donald Trump is looking to roll out his administration’s peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians in February, Shaked said Wednesday that she would counsel the American leader that any such proposal was “a waste of time.”

“I think that the gap between the Palestinians and the Israelis is much too big to be bridged,” she said in an English-language interview on stage at the Jerusalem Post diplomatic conference.

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