Naftali Bennett, the popular leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said Saturday night that he has an arrangement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refrain from attacking one another during the upcoming election campaign.
Speaking in Washington, DC, at the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum, Bennett added that he and Netanyahu “want to form a strong national bloc.” Despite his own rising popularity, Bennett said he was not “obsessed” with becoming prime minister.
He also said he was unaware of any attempts by Netanyahu to form a new coalition and avert early elections.
Focusing largely on his vision for a plan to deal with the Palestinian issue, Bennett stated that “not every problem in life has a solution,” and said he was looking for the best outcome, an admittedly imperfect one. “Let’s stop this obsession with the one thing we can’t solve.”
He allowed that the Palestinians are “here to stay. We’re here to stay.”
As he often does, Bennett spoke at length about Israel’s innovations, and the potential they hold for the betterment of the region. He said he envisions Israel as “a lighthouse standing in a Muslim storm.”
Bennett argued against a Palestinian state in the West Bank, saying that he had learned lessons from the results of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal. Hamas took over and attacked Israel, he pointed out, and the most damaging incidents for Israel internationally — the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead in the Strip, the Mavi Marmara raid, and Operation Protective Edge last summer — were all the result of Israel leaving the coastal strip.
Bennett said that presenting his vision of Israel’s future would be an “uphill battle.”
“By no means will I ever agree to give up sovereignty over Jerusalem,” he emphasized.
Bennett stood by previous statements that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a “terrorist,” and argued that Abbas cooperates with Israel on security issues because “he’s trying to save his own life.”
“He’s poisoning the brains of the next generation,” he said, referring to the “incitement” against Israel in the Palestinian Authority.
The economy minister claimed that the United States is Israel’s best friend in the world, but added that it is “no secret we’re not at a peak of the political relationship.” He also said that US Secretary of State John Kerry is “a friend,” despite “profound disagreements.”
In October, after Kerry said that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict helped the Islamic State group recruit new members, Bennett attacked the US diplomat on his Facebook page, linking to an article about Kerry’s remarks, and commenting in Hebrew that “Even when a British Muslim beheads a British Christian, someone will always blame the Jew.”
Bennett’s conversation with Brookings Vice-President Martin Indyk turned contentious at times, with the two men accusing each other of “living in another reality.”
At the end of conversation, Bennett made a plea to the US government to let convicted spy Jonathan Pollard out of prison.
This year’s Saban Forum, titled “Stormy Seas: The United States and Israel in a Tumultuous Middle East,” features remarks by Netanyahu (set to speak on Sunday), former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Vice President Joe Biden, and Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog.