A fiery debate which erupted during Wednesday’s cabinet meeting revealed a widening gulf between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home).
The two locked horns over a planned discussion on the proposal to withdraw IDF forces from major Palestinian Authority cities, a moved opposed by Bennett and other senior cabinet members.
Officials present at the closed door security meeting told Yediot Ahronot that the incident began when Bennett lashed out Netanyahu for apparently neglecting his promise to open the withdrawal plan up to discussion and a cabinet vote.
Referring to a pledge made by the Prime Minister on Sunday to bring the matter to a cabinet vote on Wednesday, Bennett told Netanyahu “keep your promise”.
Netanyahu reportedly erupted, yelling back at Bennett saying “you don’t decide anything here.”
The shouting match continued between the two, with Netanyahu threatening to fire the Jewish Home leader from his cabinet.
“Calm down or I’ll fire you,” Netanyahu reportedly told Bennett.
Officials speaking on condition of anonymity reported that the Netanyahu-Bennett relationship had reached a new low.
“We’ve seen rounds of arguments and clashing between Bennett and Netanyahu before,” one official said. “But what happened today in the cabinet was a new record. We’ve never seen a fight like this before. The tone and content were abnormally fierce. Netanyahu was absolutely furious. This was unlike anything we’ve seen till today.”
A second official present at the meeting noted that despite his anger, the Prime Minister acceded to Bennett’s request.
“Netanyahu didn’t like what Bennett had said or the way he said it, and he answered him sharply – ‘you don’t decide things here’. In spite of that, in the end he gave into Bennett’s demand and raised the issue during the meeting.”
“After Netanyahu yelled [at Bennett] and threatened to blow up the meeting, he recanted because everybody knows, including Netanyahu, what firing Bennett would mean. That seems to be why the two of them calmed down and let the meeting continue.”
While Bennett’s office declined to comment on the incident, Jewish Home chairperson Shuli Muallem ridiculed Netanyahu’s threat to fire Bennett. Referring to Netanyahu’s election-day claim that Arabs were being bused into polling places en masse, Muallem suggested the Prime Minister could only lose by bringing on early elections.
“It’s a basic thing for a government minister and senior coalition partner to demand information and answers on security issues, especially when terror is running rampant in the streets. If Netanyahu wants to break up the coalition over this, fine, let him go and try to explain to people a second time about how Arabs are flooding to the polls. But this time the public will know who cares about the state’s security.”