Israel’s Economics Minister Naftali Bennett issued an apologetic statement on Wednesday for his all-too-blunt repudiation of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent comment that Jews should be allowed to remain in Yehuda and Shomron under a future Palestinian state.
Reportedly, the Jewish Home leader’s high-profile dissent so infuriated the prime minister that it led to an ultimatum: Bennett must either apologize or quit the government. He was given until 10 a.m. Sunday to choose.
Bennett chose a third option on Wednesday evening, expressing regret for personal offense but without changing his stand on the issue.
“There are some who are trying to to turn a fundamental debate about the future of our country and about our security into a personal attack that never happened, and if the prime minister was offended, this was not my intention,” Bennett said.
“I respect Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his leadership under not-simple conditions. I support him when needed and criticize him when the situation calls for it. This is my duty,” he explained.
The statement was released within an hour of the ultimatum: “Bennett’s dismissal letter was ready; the ultimatum worked faster than we thought it would,” sources in the prime minister’s office said.
Sources in his Jewish Home party insisted that Bennett’s statement was not an apology at all, but Netanyahu was reportedly satisfied with the results, and a coalition crisis was averted.
Earlier in the week, Bennett had said that “the idea that Jewish communities will live under Palestinian sovereignty, as expressed by the prime minister’s office, is a very grave matter, and it reflects a panicked loss of values. 2,000 years of longing for the Land of Israel did not transpire so that we could live under Abbas’s rule.”
He went on to denounce the idea as virtually suicidal. “It will not happen, and cannot happen,” Bennett said. “You know why Jews can’t live under Palestinian sovereignty? Why? Because they will kill them. How do I know, because it happened,” he said. He went on to cite the Arab massacre of Jews in 1929 in Chevron, and in 2000 when two reservists made a wrong turn and were lynched after being taken to the Palestinian Authority police station in Ramallah.
Everyone knows, he said, that if an Arab wanders into to Herzliya he will leave safely, but that if a Jew gets lost and ends up in Jenin he will be killed.
Ha’aretz reported that Netanyahu was angry that Bennett had stepped on his “gambit” to expose the Palestinians as anti-Semitic, anticipating that his suggestion would elicit refusals from them to allow any Jews in their state, which it did.
“His chutzpah and his irresponsible style will not pass quietly,” sources in the prime minister’s office had warned. Referring to the possible consequences of unrepentance, they noted that Netanyahu has other coalition alternatives and that Bennett could be replaced.
Jewish Home MK Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, not known for being an alarmist, conceded on Wednesday that there was indeed a political “crisis.”
Ariel said that while the two could disagree on important issues, it should not become personal. “If someone was insulted, I think this is not good, and if it were me, I would apologize.”