Bennett vows to back government Gaza response, says Hamas must pay ‘heavy price’

Lapid also supports use of force in flare-up that has hindered talks on coalition to replace Netanyahu; progress reported between Yesh Atid, Labor, Meretz

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid both expressed support Wednesday for a forceful response by the Israeli government to Gaza terrorists and Arab mobs in Lod, even as the pair moved on with their efforts to form a coalition that would replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

The comments came after more than 1,000 rockets were fired from the Strip at Israeli cities and communities in under two days and anti-tank missiles were fired at Israeli vehicles, killing a total of six people. Israel has retaliated with dozens of airstrikes. Palestinians have reported 35 deaths, with Israel saying most are members of terror groups or victims of errant Hamas rocket fire.

Meanwhile, the Jewish-Arab city of Lod has seen unprecedented riots by Arab mobs — alongside Jewish revenge attacks — with three synagogues, stores and countless cars torched, prompting the government to take the unprecedented step of declaring a state of emergency and sending in massive reinforcements.

In a statement Wednesday, Bennett — a right-winger who has been under constant attacks by Netanyahu and his allies for negotiating on forming a coalition with centrist, left-wing and Arab parties — called on the government “not to end the current round [of fighting] in Gaza before Hamas pays a heavy price.”

He also called for steps to be taken to “immediately ensure the safety of the families besieged in their homes for fear of Arab mobs” and for bringing the perpetrators “to justice.”

Bennett joined Public Security Minister Amir Ohana in backing Jewish men suspected of murder after the fatal shooting of an Arab man in Lod. They say the shots were fired in self-defense, but a court has remanded them for three days, saying that their arguments don’t line up with the “objective facts” after an initial police probe indicated they were fired at a long range.

“The legal and political system must back those who protect themselves and their families with weapons,” Bennett said. “The fact that [the suspects] are now in custody is a moral injustice and a bad message to those who will want to protect themselves in the future.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with then Defense Minister Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett, a vocal critic of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, added that Netanyahu’s Likud party “has turned from a ruling party to a party that fails to manage the country and incompetently leads it from failure to disaster.”

However, he added that he would “completely back any move by the Netanyahu-Gantz government to restore security, regardless of any political consideration. This is the time to unite and win.”

In his own statement, Lapid said that “experience teaches us that terror groups only understand force, and they need to know that we will employ force without hesitation.”

But Lapid said he was marching ahead with efforts to form a so-called “change government” since “Hamas and the Lod rioters won’t control us” and “violence won’t dictate our lives.”

Negotiations have faced a serious setback since Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Islamist Ra’am party, said he was freezing the talks until the violence abates.

Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid holds a press conference in Tel Aviv, on May 6, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

A Ra’am source told the Kan public broadcaster Tuesday that it was unclear if the party would again hold talks with Lapid — who is currently tasked with forming a government — before his mandate to assemble a coalition ends on June 2, as the resumption of negotiations would depend on the scope of the violence.

On Wednesday, Abbas told Kan’s Arabic-language radio station that there was “no choice but to return to the political negotiations to form a government after the flareup eases.”

Channel 12 news reported “significant progress” in talks between Yesh Atid and the left-wing Labor and Meretz parties regarding the distribution of ministry portfolios.

Likud officials, who had sought a coalition supported by Ra’am only a week earlier, came out against the idea on Tuesday, and urged all right-wing parties, including those opposed to Netanyahu, to unite in a coalition to handle the current crisis.

“All sides must stop the wooing of the Islamist slate [Ra’am] to form their government,” Finance Minister Israel Katz of Likud wrote on Facebook. “No government in Israel can be dependent on an extremist Islamist faction that denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am party, gives a press statement after meeting with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He also alleged that the violent mobs that attacked Jewish homes in Arab-Jewish cities were “incited by supporters of the Islamic Movement” that forms part of Ra’am’s base of support.

A Channel 13 report on Monday claimed a new coalition had been all but finalized when the violence escalated. Lapid and Bennett had reportedly intended to tell President Reuven Rivlin on Monday night that they had managed to muster a coalition, which would have relied on support from Ra’am for its majority, and that it could be sworn in next week.

Channel 12 reported that almost all ministerial appointments in the putative Bennett-Lapid coalition had been agreed upon by the various parties. These included Bennett as prime minister with Lapid as alternate prime minister and foreign minister (with Lapid to later take his turn as premier under a rotation deal), Benny Gantz as defense minister, Avigdor Liberman as finance minister, Ayelet Shaked as interior minister, Gideon Sa’ar as justice minister, Merav Michaeli as transportation minister, and Nitzan Horowitz as health minister.

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