Bennett: Netanyahu betrayed religious Zionists, and will pay for it
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New poll confirms bump for Likud

Bennett: Netanyahu betrayed religious Zionists, and will pay for it

Yamina party chief says government leading Israel to coronavirus peril, PM needlessly dragging out annexation talks

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group, on February 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group, on February 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Delivering a blistering critique of the new government, which he said was dooming Israel, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett on Thursday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of betraying the religious Zionist community by keeping his right-wing party out of the coalition, and promised that Netanyahu will pay for the move.

“Netanyahu betrayed the religious Zionists. There was an alliance, and he threw out religious Zionism and threw the right out. He didn’t stand by his word and he will bear the consequences,” Bennett told the Kipa website during a tour of the Negev.

The former Netanyahu ally, who opted to take his party to the opposition rather than accept what he called an “insulting” offer from the prime minister, vowed that he would not enter the “bad, inflated government that is neglecting the most important thing today for the State of Israel — bringing people back to work.”

“There are a million unemployed and Netanyahu and Gantz are leading an economic tsunami this winter. They do nothing to prevent ‘The Great Winter Shutdown,'” he charged, claiming both that warnings of a second coronavirus wave were exaggerated and that the government was not doing enough to prevent a further outbreak.

“We are not in the second wave, we are still in the things we expected to happen in the first wave. But there is my plan to increase the testing, we just have to start working seriously,” he said of coronavirus tests, which have gone up dramatically in recent days but still fall short of the 100,000 daily tests Bennett has called for.

“If they stop talking and start moving, we will not have to close the country again and overcome the second wave,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate PM and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

The comments come just weeks after a new government was sworn in, ending over 500 days of political deadlock that saw Israel slog through three inconclusive elections. Benny Gantz entered into negotiations to form a government with Netanyahu after the most recent elections in a move that led to the splintering of his Blue and White party, which had campaigned on replacing the Likud chief due to his indictment on graft charges.

In an interview on Wednesday with Channel 12 news, his first since joining the opposition, Bennett maintained that Netanyahu had not wanted his national-religious faction in the government from the outset.

“Netanyahu didn’t want us. There wasn’t a moment of negotiation,” Bennett said, though he stopped short of blaming the personal animus between himself and Netanyahu for the fallout.

Increasingly critical of Netanyahu, Bennett said a he does not believe the prime minister will go forward with annexing parts of the West Bank as he has vowed repeatedly to do in recent months.

The coalition deal signed between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White allows the prime minister to begin moving forward with annexation on July 1. He has promised to annex all settlements and the Jordan Valley — some 30 percent of the West Bank in total. The parts of the West Bank that Israel would extend sovereignty over are those earmarked for it under US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center left) and Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani seen during a tree planting event for the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, in the West Bank settlement of Mevo’ot Yericho, in the Jordan Valley on February 10, 2020. (Flash90)

Currently, a US-Israeli committee is working to map out the exact contours of potential annexation, with Washington saying the move should not go forward before that work is complete.

A minister in Netanyahu’s Likud party said last week that the July 1 target date for annexation could be pushed off by weeks, while a source told The Times of Israel that the US was “highly unlikely” to support Israel moving forward with annexation then.

Amid the moves toward annexation, Netanyahu saw a bump in his public support this week with the first polls released since the new government was formed. These showed his Likud party winning more than 40 seats if election were held today.

A new poll published by Radio 103 FM on Friday confirmed the gains, showing that the Likud party would swell to 41 seats if fresh elections were held today, and that together with his right-wing religious allies, Netanyahu could easily form a government without Blue and White or Yisrael Beytenu.

Together with Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina, Netanyahu’s Likud-led bloc would have 64 seats, giving him a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

According to the survey, Likud would be the largest party with 41 seats, up from the 36 it now has. That would be the best showing by any party since the 1992 elections, when Labor under Yitzhak Rabin picked up 44 seats.

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem on May 25, 2020. (Flash90)

Following Likud in the Friday poll was Yesh Atid-Telem, the two factions that broke with Gantz over their opposition to joining a government led by Netanyahu, who would together get 16 seats, three more than the 13 seats the poll said Gantz’s Blue and White would receive.

The predominately Arab Joint List would maintain its current strength of 15 seats, according to the poll, putting it ahead of Blue and White.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas and UTJ parties, both part of the current government, would get nine and eight seats, respectively, upping their current combined tally by one.

The poll said Yisrael Beytenu, Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing secularist party, whose feuding with Netanyahu’s religious partners helped trigger the extended political gridlock, would retain the seven seats it received in the last election.

Yamina would also stay stagnant, keeping the six seats it now has.

The survey, conducted by pollster Prof. Yizhak Katz for the Machon Mochot institute, included 503 respondents and had a 4.4% margin of error.

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