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Opposition leader blames Netanyahu for tensions with Israeli Arabs

‘Those who add fuel to the fire should not be surprised by the heat of the flames,’ says Labor Party head Isaac Herzog

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog speaks during a party meeting in the Israeli parliament, July 28, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog speaks during a party meeting in the Israeli parliament, July 28, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

Opposition leader and head of the Labor Party Isaac Herzog said Saturday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was responsible for recent tensions with Israel’s Arab community, after the unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank spread to Arab communities within Israel.

The surge followed the police’s fatal shooting of a Kafr Kanna man early last Saturday, which set off violent clashes between protesters in Israeli Arab villages and Israeli police this week. The clashes prompted Netanyahu to tell Arab rioters that they were welcome to leave Israel for Gaza or the West Bank.

“To all those who are shouting against Israel and demonstrating against it — you are welcome to move to the Palestinian Authority or to Gaza, Israel won’t stand in the way,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of the weekly Likud faction meeting on Monday.

Herzog blasted the PM’s statement, saying “those who pour oil on the fire should not be surprised by the heat of the flames,” Israeli Radio quoted him as saying at a gathering in Beersheba.

Herzog added that the remark was proof that there was no national leadership in Israel and that Netanyahu was too busy “chasing mandates” and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett’s right-wing supporters.

“Netanyahu is subservient to Naftali Abu Ali who commands him,” Herzog said, adding that the rightist extremists in the Likud and Bennett’s Jewish Home Party were “setting the tone [and leading us to] a national disaster.”

Herzog estimated that national elections would be held within a year and claimed he had a strong chance of becoming prime minister

As for Netanyahu’s shaky coalition, Justice Minister and Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni said over the weekend that she was “asking myself almost every day if I should still be in the government. I suppose a moment will come when I say – that’s it.”

Livni said her presence in the government allowed her to influence policy and protect democratic values in the country from a position of power.

“I’m taking advantage of the fact that I remain in the government so that my voice may be heard more loudly, so that even outside the country [people] will listen to me, and in order to do what is necessary,” she said.

Livni’s party member Amir Peretz quit the government and his position as environmental protection minister this week, saying the 2015 budget did not address economic inequalities and calling for the replacement of Netanyahu.

Meanwhile Herzog also blamed the premier for the public spat this past week between Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz — over the security establishment’s preparedness for this summer’s war — which has since been largely resolved.

“Netanyahu is responsible for the IDF and the Shin Bet. He didn’t recognize the dangerous conflagration between the two organizations, allowed it to rage and remembered too late [to extinguish it],” Herzog said.

The spat, which has rocked Israel’s defense establishment, started when a Channel 2 investigative report aired statements by a senior Shin Bet agent who said the organization had received information in January of Hamas preparations for a war against Israel in July. This alert, he claimed, had been conveyed to Israeli leaders. The IDF insisted it had received no such specific warning, and the Shin Bet gradually walked back the claim amid open accusation and counter-accusation between the two services.

After several days of tensions and accusations, Cohen and Gantz said Friday that they had resolved the disagreement between them. In a meeting at Gantz’s home in Rosh Ha’ayin, the two said they had decided to put the whole affair behind them.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz with Yoram Cohen, head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in Jerusalem in December 2011. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz with Yoram Cohen, head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in Jerusalem in December 2011. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Cohen stressed to Gantz that members of his agency never meant to imply that the IDF was negligent during the 50-day Operation Protective Edge in July and August.

Following the meeting, a joint statement was released emphasizing that the “differences were resolved,” and that the two agreed on “steps to deepen the cooperation between the organizations for the sake of Israeli national security.” They also set up a joint committee to delineate respective areas of responsibility regarding the Gaza Strip.

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