Liberman, Bennett trade barbs over Qatari cash payments into Gaza

Defense minister says education minister is ‘suffering from memory loss or just lying’ in his stated opposition to transfer of money and fuel

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman (back) and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett (front) seen during a Knesset session on May 11, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman (back) and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett (front) seen during a Knesset session on May 11, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman kept their ongoing public spat alive on Sunday morning, with Liberman tweeting that Bennett was “either suffering from memory loss, or is just lying.”

The education minister had said that cash transferred by Qatar into the Gaza Strip over the weekend was “protection money” that would only buy quiet in the short term. Bennett told the Israel Radio that he had made that point as far back as July, and that Hamas would still be able to carry out violent attacks in order to advance its interests.

In response, the defense minister said Bennett had in fact supported the transfer of money as well as the supply of Qatari fuel to the coastal enclave, and was in favor of a proposal to allow 5,000 workers from Gaza to enter Israel, as well as opposing military action against Hamas.

“The responsibility for the protection [money] is on [Bennett] and his party,” wrote Liberman.

A Palestinian man shows his money after receiving his salary in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 9, 2018 (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The defense minister concluded by noting that he was the only cabinet member at a recent meeting to oppose the transfer of funds to Hamas.

On Friday, $15 million in Qatari cash entered the Gaza Strip in several suitcases to pay the salaries of Palestinian civil servants in Gaza in a bid to ease tensions in and around the impoverished territory.

A total of $90 million is to be distributed in six monthly installments of $15 million, according to authorities, primarily to cover salaries of officials working for Hamas. Qatar has also said it would hand out $100 to each of 50,000 families in poverty, as well as larger sums to Palestinians wounded in clashes along Gaza’s border with Israel.

The transfers, which had been opposed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, came after Israel let Qatari fuel through, allowing the Strip’s sole power station to provide double the amount of electricity daily.

Bennett and Liberman have traded barbs several times in recent weeks. Bennett’s 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.

Last week, Bennett accused the defense minister of “ruining Israel’s deterrence” against Palestinian terror attacks.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a Jewish Home party faction meeting at the Knesset, on November 5, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Bennett was referring to a bill pushed by his party, proposing the transfer of families of terror convicts away from their home communities and their resettlement 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.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during the opening of the IDF Exhibition in Tel Aviv, on September 20, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

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.

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.

A greenhouse that was set on fire by an infiltrator from Gaza on November 9, 2018 (Screencapture)

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 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.

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