Citing Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s recent statement that he preferred elections to releasing Israeli Arab prisoners convicted of terrorism to the Palestinian Authority, opposition MKs eagerly took up on Monday what they characterized as a call for new elections by a major coalition leader.
“Liberman expressed his heart’s desire and returned to his natural place in calling for new elections,” opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) said sarcastically in the plenum. “I don’t think this is awful. It’s a real solution for the State of Israel to break the impasse that this government has caused at every turn. If Liberman wants to go to elections, we’ll go.”
Speaking at a special recess meeting of the Knesset about the faltering peace talks with the Palestinians, as well as the fate of jailed Israeli American spy Jonathan Pollard, Herzog went on to place the blame for the apparent failure of the process on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We are on the edge of a volcano and the public does not understand the gravity of the situation. And all the fault lies with the prime minister, who cannot do anything,” he said. “The entire process is a failure that has crashed because there is no possibility of taking real steps toward peace on Netanyahu’s terms. Therefore I call on the Hatnua and Yesh Atid [parties] to leave the government and join us.”
Earlier Monday, a call from Hatnua party member Amram Mitzna to bolt the coalition was rejected by party colleague Environmental Protection Amir Peretz, who said Hatnua should stay in the government so long as there was any chance of peace progress. In an interview on Saturday, party leader and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni had blamed the Palestinians for a “breach of understandings” that triggered the current crisis. Peretz said Netanyahu would have to “make up his mind” as to whether he seriously wanted progress or was “capitulating to the extreme right.”
During Monday’s Knesset debate, MK Ahmad Tibi (Ra’am-Ta’al) joined Herzog in criticizing the government and joined his call for new elections.
He added that the negotiations with the Palestinians were going nowhere and said that a senior American official was lying when he said progress was made in a meeting between chief negotiators Livni and her Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erekat.
Speaking on behalf of the coalition, Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis blamed the Palestinian side for the failure of the talks and chided the opposition for backing the Palestinian narrative.
“It is unfortunate that the opposition is again automatically backing the Palestinian side,” he said. “These are the facts: Abbas said no to Obama on a framework deal, he also said in the Arab League that he would not agree to discuss recognizing [Israel as a] Jewish state. The US has mainly pressured Israel, and the Palestinians have spit in [their] faces.”
Akunis added that he “would expect the [opposition] to stand for the truth, but instead you prefer to side with the Palestinians when you know that the Israeli government has made far-reaching compromises for the negotiations.”
He also rejected Herzog’s suggestion that the Israeli public did not understand the situation.
“The Palestinians are getting an appetite and demanding more and more,” he said. “Nearly 70 percent of the Israeli public understands that the last thing the Palestinians want is to reach an agreement. Instead, they are interested in dancing in the streets with the murderers of children. These are the partners of the opposition.”
He was referring to Palestinian prisoners whose release Israel has conditioned on an extension of peace talks beyond their April 29 deadline. The Palestinians said that linking the release of prisoners — some of whom were convicted of murdering Israelis — to extending talks was a breach of understandings.