Minister Ofir Akunis warns:
'In three weeks, government of withdrawals will arise'

Science Minister prepares for Left-wing minority government, argues Likud could provide strong response from opposition as well. Interview

Shimon Cohen ,

Hezki Baruch

Science Minister Ofir Akunis, in an interview with Arutz Sheva, referred to late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's grandson Yonatan ben Artzi's attack on Prime Minister Netanyahu regarding chances of forming a government and the solidarity of the Right-leaning bloc.

At the beginning of the conversation, we wondered if it was right for Likud leaders to boycott memorial events for Yitzhak Rabin when year after year the arena becomes political and they are attacked by representatives of the Rabin family and the Left-wing camp.

Minister Akunis replies in the negative and mentions that as a minister in the Israeli government, he made sure to attend these events because he "respects Prime Minister Rabin whom I did not vote for and did not intend to vote for and mourned his murder by Yigal Amir." In contrast, believes Akunis, Yonatan Ben-Artzi this year, Noa Ben-Artzi last year, and Yuval Rabin two years ago made the event a political event and thus "they shame the man, a Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Palmach veteran, born and buried in Jerusalem; it's an embarrassment and a disgrace."

In his remarks, Minister Akunis points out that yesterday, during a memorial rally, he found it appropriate to approach Yonatan Ben-Artzi and tell him what was on his heart, "I told him it was an act one doesn't do," he says. "I told him 'know that the truth isn't just on your side'."

He said that he and his colleagues in the Right-leaning camp, including the Prime Minister, do what the Rabin family does not do to honor the father of the family and respect him. Regarding Ben-Artzi's reaction, Akunis says he found it inappropriate to imply that Likud ministers should bring about Netanyahu's ouster. "He hinted 'why don't you put a stop to it,' the intention being Netanyahu's rule. To imply to a minister in the government that the Likud should something to oust Netanyahu is insolent."

Akunis also says that President Reuven Rivlin tried to subdue him during the spat with Rabin's grandchild, but Akunis replied "our truth will be told. This is the truth of the entire Rightist camp, yours too."

From here, the conversation with Minister Akunis revolves around the issue of the seeming third elections and prospects of preventing them. According to him, there is another chance for a turnaround "if Liberman does what he should do, join the Rightist camp, according to the wishes of his voters don't want to see him join the coalition with the Joint Arab List."

In his remarks, Minister Akunis mentions his warning from the days before the elections that a coalition is expected to form relying on support of the votes for the Joint Arab List. "I admit I didn't think Liberman would be party to it, but it turned out to be the case, and now that which we most feared has come to pass, and it has come in a big way."

In his estimation, "this government will rise in three weeks" and with its establishment is expected to resume the struggle for the integrity of Eretz Yisrael bringing tens of thousands to the streets, since "dangerous political agreements will come and the inability to respond militarily because supporters of the coalition are the Joint Arab List with Avigdor Liberman. It's inconceivable but this is the political reality I reflect on.

"Obviously we don't want an election campaign, but it was forced on us by Liberman who didn't bring his five seats to the Rightist government which was due in early June. This can be prevented by Liberman's return to the national camp where he belonged."

And perhaps for this, the Likud must part with the bloc, agree to Liberman's demands, and later the Right-leaning and haredi parties will join if they accept the government's basic lines? Akunis responds with criticism of Liberman's statements to the Rightist and haredi parties: "I don't accept this style where legitimate elected officials are called derogatory names. I have never called derogatory names to political - Jewish and non-Jewish - opponents. I have disagreements with Shas or Betzalel Smotrich or United Torah Judaism, so what, I call them names and curses? There are legitimate differences in Israeli public life that need to be resolved, and within a coalition regime you do that inside the coalition? Avigdor Liberman thinks he'll determine the character of the regime with the eight seats he has. It's unacceptable. Someone has to tell him enough. You won't set us ultimatums. You've only got eight seats so enough with that. The public has had it up to here with his tweets and posts and press conferences.

"I say that in three weeks, a minority government will be sworn in by the Knesset. That will happen. I know it's not easy for my friends in the national camp to hear it, and we'll be a fighting opposition led by Binyamin Netanyahu and I intend to be one of the most active Knesset Members for our ideas and worldviews, the members of the National Camp. There will be a struggle for the Land of Israel, its integrity, and its specific communities. After all, the Joint Arab List won't cooperate in a government that won't promote withdrawals. There will be evacuation of settlements in this government, and Avigdor Liberman already said he's willing to hand over his house in Nokdim for peace. All other coalition partners, Labor, Meretz, Blue and White, and the Joint Arab List also support this and so you have a coalition that promotes withdrawals.

"Menachem Begin said we'll serve the people from the opposition, so here, in two or three weeks, we'll serve the people from the opposition because it's our duty and that's what we'll do."

Regarding the idea of ​personal election for prime minister, an idea put forward by Minister Aryeh Deri and also supported by Akunis himself, we sought to understand what he was providing as a solution to the existing conflict. "I expressed support for the idea that in order to save the Knesset from dissipating; we can promote a special law in a day or week to vote for the prime minister without dissolving the Knesset and bring in early January a direct vote to decide who will be prime minister and we'll no longer debate the composition of the coalition. Not everyone will be in the coalition, of course, but lists that will accept the basic lines of a Netanyahu-led government will join."

On the likelihood that such elections will determine the prime minister's identity, but in the absence of a coalition of 61 he will remain unable to act, Minister Akunis believes that "in this situation there will be a decision on the identity of who leads. I don't think there will be an argument on the identity of the prime minister as it is today, and then there will be a significant part of Blue and White, without Yesh Atid apparently, joining the government."

In his remarks, Akunis estimates that Ya'alon would also join such a government, despite the bad blood between him and Prime Minister Netanyahu. He mentions in this connection that even between new Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and Netanyahu, there was bad blood and yet they can sit together in one government, as well as between Rabin and Peres who wrote about and scolded each other quite a bit and yet joined a single government.

On the vote in favor of Bennett's appointment as defense minister, a vote in which the only opponent was Minister Yoav Galant, who considers himself a worthy candidate, Akunis notes that he does not know the motives of Minister Galant's opposition to the appointment, and there are others too who consider themselves worthy of the post of defense minister. And there is nothing to prevent a successful defense minister actually coming from the ranks of the civilians, as it was when the late Professor Arnes was appointed and as it was when Levi Eshkol served as defense minister, who prepared the army for the Six Day War.

"I wish personal success to Naftali Bennett, the Defense Minister of the State of Israel. We need a full-time defense minister. It is important that we voted and the Knesset will approve him without voting, and tomorrow Naftali Bennett will take on the difficult challenges that lie ahead on all fronts. All ministers and citizens wish him success."

Is the post not a springboard for Bennett to jump to the post of prime minister, perhaps over the heads of Likud ministers? Minister Akunis did not sound particularly worried. He says "at the moment we're talking about the establishment of a Liberman-minority government with the Arab faction and in this situation Naftali Bennett will also be a member of the opposition as a Knesset Member. There is currently no fight over inheritance of the Likud. Netanyahu isn't going anywhere. He announced that he was going to be the leader of the opposition if such a government forms."