ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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'I urge the prime minister to wise up before it's too late'

Resigning, minister accuses ‘extremist’ gov’t of leading Israel to destruction

Avi Gabbay says leadership is silencing dissent; Ya’alon’s ouster and replacement by Liberman was the last straw

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Environmental Minister Avi Gabai announces his resignation, May 27, 2016 (FLASH90)
Environmental Minister Avi Gabai announces his resignation, May 27, 2016 (FLASH90)

Resigning from the government, Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay (Kulanu) on Friday launched a scathing attack on the coalition, accusing it of leading Israel along a path to destruction, wrecking US ties and silencing dissent on everything from the gas deal to the army’s conduct.

Gabbay was speaking at a press conference hours after he announced he would resign from his post in protest of the coalition deal with Yisrael Beytenu, the appointment of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister, and the ousting of former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.

Gabby — who is not a member of Knesset but rather an external candidate appointed to the job last year by Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon — told reporters “it wasn’t easy for me to be part of the government, a government that has entirely upset the relationship with the world’s strongest power.”

“This week, a year after my appointment, came the pill I could not swallow: Ya’alon’s dismissal and Liberman’s appointment are an unusual step, even in politics. I urge the prime minister to wise up before it’s too late, remember that security is security and to rely on people, leadership, and not just tanks and planes,” Gabbay said.

He said the removal of Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff, and his replacement by Liberman was a step too far. “The ouster of a professional, temperate defense minister, who just this year managed to calm a bubbling (Palestinian) uprising, was a move I could not be party to.”

He added: “For me, the state of Israel is a wonder — the realization of the Third Temple. The Jewish people already destroyed the Second Temple with their civil wars, we must stop these process that will lead to the destruction of the Third Temple.”

A fierce critic of the offshore gas deal, Gabbay linked the agreement — which has been revised after the High Court shot it down in its earlier formulation — and the public debate over the Israel Defense Forces’ morality.

“I had a hard time seeing the national divides and the attacks on our army,” he said. “The gas deal was also a challenge for me. I saw how the biggest economic decision in the past decade was based on ignorance. There is a clear line connecting the gas deal to the attack on the military — the goal is to weaken public servants and prevent them from speaking their minds,” he said.

“The country has the right to have a right-wing government,” he added. “But I do not think it is right to form an extremist government.”

Outgoing Defense Minister and Likud member, Moshe Ya'alon, speaks at a press conference in which he announces his resignation from the Knesset, in the Kirya, the Tel Aviv IDF headquarters, on May 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Outgoing Defense Minister and Likud member, Moshe Ya’alon, speaks at a press conference in which he announces his resignation from the Knesset, in the Kirya, the Tel Aviv IDF headquarters, on May 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Former defense minister Ya’alon stepped down last Friday, citing a “lack of faith” in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after the premier offered his job to Liberman as part of the coalition negotiations. Leaving office, he pledged a political comeback.

On Friday, Ya’alon hailed Gabbay for his decision to quit.

“Full respect to Avi Gabbay, who proves that there is another way,” wrote Ya’alon on Twitter. “We mustn’t give up.”

A founder of the Kulanu party, Gabbay was appointed as a minister by Finance Minister Kahlon, who has publicly supported Netanyahu’s efforts to expand the razor-thin coalition. Since he is not an MK, Gabbay’s depature does not affect the numbers in the governing coalition.

Kahlon said Gabbay informed him of his decision on Thursday night, and in a statement thanked him for his “partnership” in helping found Kulanu. Kahlon told the prime minister Friday that he will hold on to the environmental protection portfolio.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman announce their coalition agreement, May 25, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman announce their coalition agreement, May 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Also last week, MK Orly Levy-Abekasis quit the Yisrael Beytenu party over the coalition talks, arguing her party failed to make demands on social issues in the negotiations. Levy-Abekasis will remain in the Knesset as an independent candidate.

Netanyahu and Liberman signed the coalition agreement on Wednesday, bolstering the coalition’s slim 61-seat Knesset majority with the right-wing party’s five seats, while shrinking the opposition to 54. Jewish Home, however, has threatened to hold up Liberman’s appointment if demands are not met to increase intelligence sharing among ministers on security matters. Liberman’s appointment to the Defense Ministry will be brought to a Knesset plenum vote on Monday.

Netanyahu has said the addition of Liberman, a hard-liner who has referred to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a terrorist, will not affect peace efforts, addressing fears that the move will hinder diplomatic efforts with the Palestinians.

At a signing ceremony in the Knesset on Wednesday, Netanyahu pledged to pursue new “opportunities” for a peace deal with the Palestinians.

“Israel needs governmental stability if it is to cope with the challenges that await us and also in order to take advantage of the opportunities that await us,” Netanyahu, flanked by a jocular Liberman, told reporters at the ceremony. “Alongside the threats and dangers, there are also opportunities. I am committed to advancing the peace process. I’m committed to making every effort to reach an agreement.”

Along with Liberman’s appointment as defense minister, Yisrael Beytenu party member MK Sofa Landver will resume the role of immigrant absorption minister, which she previously filled between 2009 and 2015.

Times of Israel staff, AFP contributed to this report.

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