Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday had a tense back-and-forth with CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s handling of recent clashes on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.
In the interview, Amanpour asked Bennett why Israeli police sometimes enter Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is located on the Temple Mount, citing the sensitivities of Palestinians and Muslims elsewhere.
“There you go again starting the story in the middle,” he said.
Referring to clashes last Friday at the Temple Mount, the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism, Bennett noted police entered the mosque after rocks were hurled from it toward officers.
“My responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to provide freedom of prayer for everyone in Jerusalem, including Muslims, which is why I had to send in policemen to remove the rioters and it worked,” he said.
“When faced with violence you have to act tough,” he added.
Responding to Bennett’s “there you go again” line, Amanpour cited comments that Central Command chief Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs made to The New York Times in February, when he expressed concerns over “settler terrorism” following a rise in violence and vandalism by settlers in the West Bank. Fuchs is responsible for Israeli forces in the area.
“The West Bank has been occupied since 1967, settlers are allowed to be there. It is a minority, I know that, but they are there and they are violent, this minority,” she said.
The CNN anchor then again raised Fuchs’s remarks and asked Bennett to respond to the IDF commander saying his job is to protect both Israelis and Palestinians.
“What you’ve been projecting is blatantly false,” he said. “It’s a lie, simply a lie.”
“No, sir, you cannot say that to me,” she retorted. “You cannot tell me I’m lying.”
“Well, you’re misrepresenting the facts… I said a tiny minority, and I object [to] the symmetry that you’re trying to create here,” he said.
“There’s no symmetry. I’m talking about your own generals,” said Amanpour.
Bennett said that of the several hundred thousand Israelis living in West Bank settlements, “there are several hundred, perhaps even less who’ve applied violence from time to time.”
“But who’s getting murdered? We’re seeing Palestinians murder Israelis. We’re not seeing Israelis murdering Palestinians, and that’s why there’s no symmetry here,” he said. “I also object, these are not occupied territories, they’re territories in dispute, and we have claimed to our own place as well as them.”
“I get it. No one’s going anywhere. We have to figure out how to live together. That’s my job. To provide security for Israelis, dignity for Palestinians. I’m working on that very hard, and we’re succeeding,” Bennett continued.
“The problem is that the Palestinian leadership is totally corrupt, incompetent, so we have to do the job because there’s no one to work with on the other side, and… indeed, we’re adding jobs, better jobs, but at the end of the day, my utmost responsibility is to provide security to the Israeli people.”
Amanpour then turned to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and noted Israel’s mediation efforts, before asking Bennett where things currently stand.
“I’m at the service of [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelensky, at which point he will want us to reenter serious mediation. At the end of the day, he has to decide the fate of his own country,” he said.
“In various instances, he asked to go meet the other side, to meet [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin to solve local problems or to try to achieve an end to the war,” Bennett added, referring to his trip to Moscow in early March.
“I hope we will see an end to the war as soon as possible, but it’s not looking great.”
Wrapping up the interview, Amanpour asked if Bennett could maintain the same “posture” toward Moscow following alleged Russian atrocities such as in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid taking the lead in condemning Russia while he refrains from doing so publicly.
“Actually, we’ve condemned Russia’s aggression many times,” he said. “I know that in order to mediate later at the right moment, we do need to continue to preserve lines of communications with Russia as well.”