Liberman Vote Snagged on Bennett Ultimatum

Jewish Home chairman and Minister of Education Naftali Bennet on Sunday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jewish Home chairman and Minister of Education Naftali Bennet on Sunday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The vote to confirm Avigdor Liberman’s appointment as Defense Minister was postponed on Sunday in the face of a threat by the Jewish Home party to vote against it.

A vote of cabinet members was scheduled to be held by telephone on Sunday and in the Knesset plenum on Monday, followed by a swearing-in ceremony for Liberman and Yisrael Beytenu MK, incoming immigrant absorption minister Sofa Landver. The plenum vote was rescheduled for Wednesday.

Without the eight Jewish Home votes, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will not have a majority to approve the appointment.

Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett was evidently not bluffing on Sunday when he said that if his demand for reform of cabinet review of security issues was not met that he would vote against Liberman and if necessary take his party out of the government.

Bennett insists that Netanyahu appoint a military attaché for each member of the 10-member security cabinet to provide ministers with real-time security updates, coordinate fact-finding trips and facilitate better access to classified information. Attempts at compromise have so far failed to placate Bennett.

“We are not demanding jobs and not demanding money. We are asking to save people’s lives. Human life is more important than government portfolios. I will continue to fight to protect IDF soldiers and the residents of the Gaza periphery no matter where I am, from within the government or outside it,” Bennett said Sunday.

Likud reportedly warned that a vote against Liberman’s appointment would lead to the firing of Jewish Home’s three cabinet ministers — Education Minister Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel — and the probable collapse of the coalition. To avoid that eventuality, Netanyahu decided to put off the voting on Liberman.

If Jewish Home leaves the coalition, it will precipitate new elections, unless Netanyahu can find a replacement. Zionist Camp has taken itself out of the running, but there was speculation on Sunday that Yesh Atid could come in if Jewish Home goes out.

Earlier in the day, Shaked allowed that new elections were “a possibility” if Netanyahu does not agree to the demands for security cabinet reform.

“There don’t need to be elections, but if they want to downgrade the situation to that — it’s certainly a possibility,” she told Army Radio.

Hoping to avert the second election in a year and a half, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein urged the Jewish Home and Likud parties to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. “I know the gaps are small and both sides have good intentions,” said Edelstein. “We must not forget that the larger goal is to serve the citizens, and not lead them to unnecessary elections every year.”

Netanyahu confidant and senior Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi said he thought the matter would be resolved by Sunday.

Hanegbi characterized Bennett’s ultimatum as “political suicide.” If this right-wing government falls, or if a left-wing party joins the coalition instead of Jewish Home, the party will have to answer for it to its constituents, Hanegbi warned.