Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman reportedly shouted at Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman while security officials looked on during a heated confrontation between the two men Wednesday over a procedure that enables unification of Palestinian families divided between Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The clash happened in the so-called Aquarium, the glass-fronted inner sanctum in the Prime Minister’s Office reserved for the premier himself and his closest aides, Hadashot television news reported.
Liberman took Agraman to task after the internal security service head apparently sent a letter to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories asking for approval for the reunification of 100 families from Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Family reunification in Israel typically involves an Israeli citizen requesting citizenship for his or her non-Israeli spouse. Most unification applications are submitted by Israeli Arabs on behalf of a Palestinian spouse living in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
According to the report, security officials walking past the glass-walled area had a grandstand view of the loud confrontation.
“You have crossed all red lines,” Liberman shouted. “You can’t approach COGAT directly without notifying me and without talking to me. It’s like me calling the head of your operations department and asking him to carry out a mission — it is unacceptable and it won’t happen.”
“As long as I am defense minister there will not be one incident of family unification, not even a little bit of one,” Liberman continued. “If they want to be united, they can unite in Gaza. Family unification is enacting the right of return. I am not prepared to hear about it.”
Liberman was referring to the Palestinian national aspiration that descendants of those who fled or were expelled during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence will one day return to the country. While Palestinian negotiators have made the right of return a key aspect of demands in peace negotiations, the theoretical arrival of several million Palestinian returnees is a demand Israel cannot agree to. and remain a Jewish state.
“I don’t work for you,” Argamon shot back. “I am not subordinate to you.”
The Shin Bet is directly under the Prime Minister’s Office rather than the Defense Ministry which is responsible for COGAT, a unit within the Israel Defense Forces.
Liberman’s office declined to comment on the issue, Hadashot reported.
The Shin Bet said in a statement that it is “a state body that deals with preserving the security of the country and acts under the instructions of the political echelon.”
The process of family reunification for Palestinians has been made more stringent in recent years due to concerns it was being abused by terror groups to gain access to Israel.