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Outgoing defense minister Ya'alon
Photo: Motti Kimchi
Ya'alon leaves Defense Ministry: Netanyahu abandoned me
In interview he gave last week, the outgoing defense minister levels harsh accusations at the PM: 'he changed his mind after seeing public mood on Hebron shooting affair,' and at his replacement Lieberman: 'he ran a smear campaign against me.'

Moshe Ya'alon will leave the Defense Ministry on Sunday, but unlike previous reshuffles, the new minister will not be present at the farewell ceremonies, nor will Ya'alon brief the incoming minister.

 

 

Ya'alon's resignation from the post of defense minister will come into effect immediately upon his departure from the Kirya IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv. At 9am, Ya'alon will attend a farewell event from the Defense Ministry, and at 4:30pm, he will say goodbye to the General Staff.

 

On Saturday night, the outgoing minister met with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and signed his official letter of resignation from the parliament.

Outgoing defense minister Ya'alon (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
Outgoing defense minister Ya'alon (Photo: Motti Kimchi)

 

On Tuesday night, before his resignation, Ya'alon spoke to Likudnik, a website affiliated with the ruling party, and leveled harsh accusations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and against the incoming defense minister, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman.

 

"When the Hebron shooting affair just happened, Netanyahu had agreed with me that we needed to let the military prosecution investigate and handle this," Ya'alon told the website. "And then, when he noticed the public mood, he changed his mind. As a minister, I had to back the IDF chief, but I felt like Netanyahu abandoned me."

 

When asked why he was quick to call Sgt. Elor Azaria, who shot dead an already-neutralized terrorist in Hebron, the "transgressing soldier," Ya'alon noted: "He simply took the law into his own hands. He opened fire without justification."

 

Ya'alon's letter of resignation from the Knesset.
Ya'alon's letter of resignation from the Knesset.

 

Ya'alon also came head to head with Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett during the Hebron shooting affair. "They ran a smear
campaign against me the entire time," he accused. "Lieberman was involved both personally and indirectly when (former Yisrael Beytenu MK) Sharon Gal, who is Lieberman's man, became the (Azaria) family's PR guy. I felt like Netanyahu had abandoned both the IDF chief and myself when Gal put him through to talk to the family on the phone. I have principles. Not everything is politics."

 

Ya'alon also responded to accusations from the far right that during his term in office, he foiled settlement in the West Bank. "I couldn't let them take over the structures in Hebron," he said. "There's illegal conduct in this story. As a defense minister, I approved construction where we could approve it. I didn't approve construction in places that were illegal."
 

Improving conditions at border crossings

Before leaving office, Ya’alon announced last week the completion of plans designed to improve the conditions of Palestinians at West Bank border crossings.

 

The implementation of the new initiative is expected to begin in 2017 and be fully completed within the first three years thereafter.

 

“In recent months, teams from the Defense Ministry, the Border Authority, the Finance Ministry and COGAT - led by the defense minister and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon - formulated a biennial program to upgrade the crossings in the West Bank,” a statement from Ya’alon’s office said.

 

“The plan is intended to increase the number of Palestinian workers passing through the crossings while improving their conditions and meeting the objectives of quality and service,” the statement continued.
 
The Qalandiya checkpoint (Photo: AFP)
The Qalandiya checkpoint (Photo: AFP)
 
“In addition, it will increase the amount of goods passing through the relevant crossings by around 30 percent.

 

“The waiting time at the crossings will be decreased by 30-50 percent. This will be done in tandem with an upgrade of the technological measures used at the crossings.”

 

According to the statement, the plan will cost NIS 300 million, which will be taken from the COGAT budget allocated for the area.

 

This initiative to improve the conditions of Palestinians crossing into Israel is the largest of its kind in the last ten years. The upgrade will serve to ease the flow of workers, visitors and goods from the territories at crossings including Tarkomia, Beitar, Rachel, Qalandiya, Eyal and Efraim.

 

The initiative is part of Ya'alon's larger plan to improve the economic situation of the Palestinian population, which also includes issuing some 30,000 additional work permits.

 

Also included in the new measures will be an increase in the number of security-checking areas in order to shorten the waiting hours for Palestinian workers.

 

Security checks will be augmented with more biometric methods. In addition to fingerprinting, face-recognition will be introduced designed to speed up the checks and improve security at the crossings. The checks will be conducted on both sides of the crossings where Palestinians will have access to shelters, water installations and parking lots.

 

The Knesset's upcoming challenges

The Knesset will open its summer session on Monday with last week's political drama still lingering: The failure of coalition negotiations with the Zionist Union and the harsh criticism against chairman Isaac Herzog, Yisrael Beytenu joining the government, and mostly Ya'alon's resignation will all continue to feature heavily in public discourse for a long time.

 

Yisrael Beytenu has yet to officially sign the agreement to join the government due to budgetary issues over the party's demand to complete the pension reform and its demand to amend the law to allow death sentence to terrorists. 

 

On Friday, Lieberman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon held their first meeting on the pension reform. At first, Lieberman sought to secure pensions only for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, but it was eventually decided to apply the planned reform on all immigrants, as well as on other Israelis who did not work enough years to accumulate sufficient pension funds.

 

The cost of the reform stands at about NIS 3 billion, a sum that could only be allocated if it is done gradually over the period of a few years.

 

Lieberman and Kahlon agreed to meet again at the beginning of the week to finalize the details.

 

Meanwhile, Likud Minister Yariv Levin has been working with Lieberman to formulate a draft bill proposal on death sentence to terrorists, Yisrael Beytenu's flagship legislation, which could withstand the High Court's judgment.

 

One of the options is to amend the legislation that allows the military court to hand out capital punishment to terrorists if a unanimous decision is made by three judges, and change it so only two judges suffice.

 

Here, too, the sides have yet to reach a final agreement and it is possible the two sides will commit to working on the legislation during the upcoming Knesset session.
 
Meanwhile, in another political stunt, United Torah Judaism MK Meir Paroush announced that he is resigning from the Knesset so that candidate number seven on the party list, former MK Ya'akov Asher, could return to parliament. Paroush will continue serving as the deputy education minister as part of the "Norwegian Law," which allows factions to increase their power in the Knesset at the expense of its members serving in government positions.  
 
In the opposition, Zionist Union members are still reeling from the political drama of last week. On Thursday, members of the faction received a message on a special meeting ahead of the beginning of the Knesset session. Officials in the party said Herzog is expected to face strong criticism from party members, many of whom objected to the talks to join the government. He may also face calls to hold the primaries for the party leadership earlier than initially planned, after he had lost the trust of many of the party's members.



 

Yuval Karni, Moran Azulay, Yoav Zitun and Kobi Nachshoni contributed to this story.

 

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