Only when Lieberman brought copy to cabinet meeting did PM reluctantly admit its existence.
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Photo by Dror Artzi / Emil Sal
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried last week to hide from cabinet ministers the draft of a cease-fire agreement drawn up by Egypt. A senior Israeli official said that during last Thursday evening’s cabinet meeting, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman confronted Netanyahu, showing him the copy of the Egyptian proposal that he, Lieberman, had received, and demanded an explanation.
The Israeli official said Lieberman surprised Netanyahu with this revelation. This was the first that the other cabinet ministers had heard that Israel had received a draft cease-fire agreement from the Egyptians, and they demanded copies of their own so they could review it.
A stormy atmosphere ensued and Netanyahu found himself on the defensive. The official said Netanyahu told the cabinet members that it was only a proposal, one of many that had been updated again and again in previous days.
“I didn’t say ‘yes’ to this draft and for now we do not accept it,” he told the ministers.
At one point Netanyahu exited the cabinet meeting to speak with some visiting mayors from the south. That get-together was to last only a few minutes, yet Netanyahu stretched it out to more than an hour. Eventually Lieberman and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon lost their patience and left the cabinet meeting. It was decided to adjourn and continue the following morning.
When the ministers entered the cabinet room Friday morning, Netanyahu had no choice but to present the Egyptian proposal to them. He told the cabinet members that he was rejecting it because it did not answer Israel’s security demands.
The prime minister went on to say that the proposal only addressed the issues of Gaza’s rehabilitation and the lifting of the blockade on the Strip, without dealing at all with issues such as Gaza’s demilitarization, prevention of Hamas’ rearmament, or oversight of the import of building materials to Gaza and transfer of money for Gazan government employees’ salaries.
The Israeli official said there was no cabinet vote but the ministers did agree that the Egyptian proposal should be rejected. Netanyahu pledged to the cabinet members that if a draft agreement was presented that met his demands, he would bring it to them for discussion and vote.
The Thursday and Friday cabinet meetings followed nearly two weeks in which the ministers were left in a complete fog over the cease-fire negotiations in Cairo. They angrily complained that Netanyahu and Ya’alon intended to present a final agreement to them and expect their automatic approval. They were not far from wrong.
Sources close to Lieberman confirmed the version of events presented by the senior Israeli official. One aimed a barb Netanyahu’s way: “The foreign minister has good enough sources to know what’s going on; he doesn’t need the prime minister to update him.”
The Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment on the details of this report.