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Update — 3 February, 2014 “Internal dissent not doing government any good”

‘Internal dissent not doing the government any good.’

There is an old adage that resonates with many Jewish mothers; “you don’t air your dirty laundry in public.”

For time immemorial Jews, particularly in the diaspora, have lamented Israel’s seeming PR failure. It appears that regardless of the issue Israel never manages to win the media war and comes out looking second best. This is especially baffling when we have an international spokesperson for the PM in the form of Mark Regev, a Mount Scopus graduate who always appears composed and eloquent in an interview.

The truth is that to a certain extent it doesn’t matter what Israel does. There is an ingrained hatred amongst many key international players which means that when it comes to Israel there is bias and negative spin. However, to say that there is absolutely nothing that Israel can do to boost its international image is a cop out.

Differences of opinion within the Coalition government should be settled behind closed doors and not aired in public or splashed across the media. Particularly within the context of the delicate and complex Kerry ‘peace framework’ it is imperative that the Israeli government presents a strong, united front.

Recently, rifts within the Coalition have exploded, embarrassing the Prime Minister and sending a terrible message to the international community.

First it was the Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who came out undermining Netanyahu by voicing policies at odds with the government’s stance.

Known for his strong right wing affiliation, Lieberman came out at the recent annual meeting of Israeli ambassadors presenting a ’dovish’ front which contradicted his earlier stance that there was no prospect of negotiating a settlement with the PA.

Completely ignoring Netanyahu’s recent statement that Israel need to maintain defensible borders in the Jordan Valley, the FM proposed “the use of NATO forces if the Palestinians failed to enforce security” which Isi Leibler labelled in his column as “a major policy change which could boomerang by depriving us the ability to respond against terrorist incursions.”

Further, while last year Lieberman condemned the US and said we need new allies to replace the dwindling relationship he now came out in support of Secretary Kerry’s initiative stating; “there won’t be a better offer” and hailing the proposal as “a unique opportunity to end the conflict once and for all.” In doing so Lieberman undermined the PM’s cautious approach to Kerry’s proposal, in the face of a rise in terrorist activity.

Can you imagine Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, bemoaning Tony Abbott’s foreign policy on asylum seekers or critiquing his handling of the phone tapping scandal with the Indonesian PM? In any other Western democratic Coalition government such waywardness is simply unheard of.

Isi Leibler dedicated an entire column to lamenting the Foreign minister’s conduct. Scathingly, he wrote:

“It would be perfectly in order for such proposals to be aired in op-ed columns, promoted at a seminar or symposium or even raised by an eccentric MK backbencher. Yet it is inconceivable that a Foreign Minister should behave in such a manner.”

He continues: “For Lieberman to publicly promote his own agenda and make pronouncements on undetermined foreign policy issues during this time of sensitive negotiations represents demagoguery of the worst order, and creates the impression that our government is as unruly as an undisciplined football team.”

My sentiments exactly.

Yet the more pressing issue at present is the feud that has erupted between the PM and Minister for Trade and Economy, Naftali Bennett.

At a security conference earlier this week Bennett caused chaos when he publically contradicted the Prime Minister’s assertion that under a negotiated two-state settlement Israelis could continue living in settlements under sovereign Palestinian rule.

In response, Bennett came out and said; “Israelis can’t live under Palestinian rule… because the Palestinians would kill them.”

However, this time the Prime Minister was not letting internal dissent slide.

Y Net reported today that Bennett received a clear message from the PM’s office: “He must clearly and unequivocally apologize, otherwise there will be a price to pay.”

The article continued; “Netanyahu has alternatives; a government without Bennett will continue to work to secure Israel just as it did in the previous government. No one will lecture Netanyahu about patriotism and defending Israel.”

Several news outlets reported that the Prime Minister’s office issued an ultimatum that Bennett apologize by 10am Sunday, or he be pushed out of the government.

In response to the PM’s firm stance Bennett issued a statement today in which he said: “If the Prime Minister was hurt, I am definitely saddened by that.”

Bennett then reiterated his view which stirred things up in the first place saying that “Imposing Palestinian sovereignty on Israeli citizens is dangerous, and it is my obligation to drop this idea from the agenda, and now the idea is gone.”

He continued: “I respect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his leadership under complicated conditions. I support him when needed and criticize him as needed; this is my duty.”

But is it? As a Minister in the Coalition government is this kind of public dialogue appropriate?

According to The TOI, last week the PM and Bennett reportedly held several one-on-one meetings ”to lay out ‘red lines’ for a framework agreement with the Palestinians that, if breached, may prompt him to pull his party from the government.”