Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz met Sunday in the same forum for the first time since the eruption of the political crisis surrounding the cancellation by the Prime Minister of work on Shabbos on Israel Railway infrastructure. The two sat around the same table at the weekly Sunday morning cabinet meeting.
Contrary to the expectations of some, Netanyahu did not fire Katz over the crisis, but he continued to lace into him throughout the meeting, slamming him for what Netanyahu called “an artificial crisis. Ministers are supposed to prevent crises and solve problems, not create them.”
Speaking at the meeting, Netanyahu reviewed his version of the events that had led up to the crisis. “A month and a half ago Yisrael (Katz) invited the chareidi leadership to discuss the train work, and promised them that he would make sure that no work was done on Shabbos, unless there was truly a case of risk to life. Meanwhile, there was an attempt led by him to push me out of the leadership of the Likud Central Committee, an attempt that failed. So then it comes out that the Israel Railway work would be conducted on Shabbos.”
Netanyahu said that he saw this as “an attempt to incite the chareidim against the government,” possibly to cause it to fall and to allow Katz to offer himself as the new Likud leader and “pick up the pieces.” Netanyahu stressed that he would “not permit anyone to conduct a putsch against me.”
Last week, work proceeded over Shabbos at several Israel Railway sites that Katz had declared to be necessary for pikuach nefesh, based on a report he had been given by police – a claim that was refuted by numerous authorities over the past week. Work had been scheduled to take place again this past Shabbos, but chareidi MKs said that they would not remain silent if work proceeded for a second week.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu offered a compromise to chareidi parties that would have limited work on the lines over Shabbos to 3 out of the 20 work sites, a compromise that was rejected by the parties, who insisted on full compliance with the status quo that prevents such work from taking place on Shabbos. Late Friday, Netanyahu’s office decided to suspend all work on Shabbos, postponing it to Motzoei Shabbos.
Earlier Sunday, Katz did not appear at a meeting of Likud ministers, and he did not speak to reporters on his way into the cabinet meeting. The last public comments by Katz came on Thursday, when he complained on Channel Two that Netanyahu did not appreciate the hard work done by his ministers.
Meanwhile, it appeared that despite the break in train service Sunday – and despite the major media scare of gridlock all along the coastal plain – the rush hour went rather smoothly. While the media was rife with reports about soldiers who were allegedly stuck in long lines and unable to get to their bases, Ron Ratner, a spokesperson for the Egged bus company, said at 10 a.m. that “as of this time not one soldier is waiting anywhere in the country for a ride. Egged provide 140 extra buses in order to overcome the crisis. In Tel Aviv alone we deployed 70 extra buses, and ridership was up 600 percent. Our staff are spread out in the field to tackle problems as they come up.”
With soldiers and students back at their bases and dormitories for the week, the return home is likely to be far less difficult for commuters – and train service between Tel Aviv and the rest of the country is expected to be restored to normal by 7 p.m. Sunday, Israel Railways said.