Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday reportedly threatened to fire Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party in the coalition, at the height of a bitter argument during a meeting of the key decision-making security cabinet.
Ultimately, tempers calmed, and the threat was not implemented, Channel 2 news reported.
The furious confrontation erupted over the issue of ongoing Israeli security operations inside major Palestinian cities in the West Bank, in what is known as Area A, according to reports on Channel 2 and the Ynet website.
Bennett, whose eight-strong party is crucial to Netanyahu’s governing majority, demanded that the security cabinet devote time to a discussion of Israeli policy regarding Area A, amid reports that Israel is considering ceasing military operations there in deference to the Palestinian Authority.
Netanyahu responded that the meeting already had a formal agenda, and that there would be a report on Area A from IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot later in the session.
At this point, Bennett, long a private and public critic of key aspects of Netanyahu’s policies as regards both Gaza and the West Bank, reportedly launched a tirade of criticism, accusing Netanyahu of failing to keep promises and of hiding operative decisions from the security cabinet.
“If you don’t calm down and stop,” retorted Netanyahu, “I will fire you.”
Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud whose hawkish view on the Palestinians is not far from Bennett’s, intervened on the prime minister’s side: “Naftali, there’s a way to speak to the prime minister,” Elkin reportedly said. “This way is not acceptable.”
The argument reportedly subsided after that, and it became clear, including from comments by Eisenkot, that the IDF, for now at least, has reached no formal understandings with the PA on ceasing anti-terror activities in Area A, and that such operations will continue as necessary.
Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor Bennett’s office would comment on the reported row, although Bennett’s office protested the leaking of issues debated in the security cabinet, Channel 2 reported.
Bennett relentlessly criticized Netanyahu during the 2014 war with Hamas for not “smashing” the Islamist terror group.
He also complained bitterly at the height of last year’s election campaign when Netanyahu urged all supporters of the so-called “national camp” to abandon parties such as Bennett’s and vote for the Likud — a successful tactic that helped Netanyahu ensure re-election and saw Jewish Home’s Knesset representation slide from 12 seats in the previous parliament to 8 today.