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Bennett won’t promise immunity for PM; will weigh ‘stability of Israel’

Senior Yamina leader says he won’t give Netanyahu a ‘blank check’ to protect him from prosecution, but also won’t risk damaging country at sensitive time

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Yamina's Naftali Bennett speaking at the Srugim conference in Jerusalem on September 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina's Naftali Bennett speaking at the Srugim conference in Jerusalem on September 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Senior Yamina leader Naftali Bennett said Sunday that the “stability of Israel” would be a key factor in his decision over whether to support immunity from prosecution for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing charges in three corruption cases pending a hearing.

Bennett, speaking in an on-stage interview co-sponsored by The Times of Israel and the Tel Aviv International Salon, said he would not give a “blank check” to the prime minister to save him from indictment, but he would not risk damaging the country by sending it into political chaos at a sensitive time.

Earlier this month, Yamina chair Ayelet Shaked said her party would consider supporting granting parliamentary immunity for Netanyahu, reversing a position previously stated by the right-wing alliance. Her statement followed that of Bennett, who said in an interview a day earlier that “something extreme has to happen for us to oppose immunity for Netanyahu.”

Bennett, who had expressed opposition for immunity for Netanyahu on several occasions earlier this year, said Sunday that the change in position was based on “balancing values,” citing rockets fired from Hezbollah as a reason to consider allowing the prime minister to remain in office under indictment.

Senior Yamina leader Naftali Bennett being interviewed by Times of Israel editor David Horovitz in Tel Aviv, September 15, 2019. (Tel Aviv International Salon)

“I would not promise anything in advance,” Bennett replied when asked, by a member of the audience, if he would agree to help Netanyahu in his legal woes if the prime minister made it a condition for entering a post-election coalition.

“Immunity is a quasi-judicial process and what I would tell Netanyahu, what I have said publicly: if God forbid an indictment is presented, I will weigh various things. one of them would be stability for Israel and I would also weigh the charges,” he said. “It’s about balancing values. What do we do during half a year if we have rockets from Hezbollah and no prime minister. Israel is not Luxembourg. So we have much less of a buffer to make big mistakes.”

At the same time, “I also won’t give him a blank check,” the former education minister insisted, speaking at the event hosted by Times of Israel editor David Horovitz.

To avoid prosecution in three corruption cases, Netanyahu would need to be granted immunity by a Knesset panel and by the full parliament in a majority vote, and might then need to enact legislation to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning the Knesset decision.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit earlier this year announced Netanyahu would be charged, pending a hearing, with fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases, and bribery in one of them. The prime minister denies any wrongdoing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a tour of the Jerusalem Police headquarters at the Russian compound in Jerusalem, October 7, 2015. (GPO)

While Bennett and Shaked have said that Yamina will recommend Netanyahu to form the next government after Tuesday’s election, Bennett said on Sunday said he disagreed with the way that the prime minister has used the election campaign to “deligitimize” his political rivals.

“I don’t like it,” he said of Netanyahu’s combative electioneering that has seen him repeatedly make devastating allegations, varying in truth, about his challengers from the left and right — while adding that he felt Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has also used similar tactics. “Apparently it gets votes. But I think politicians should be penalized by voters for doing that. I view my position as a leader differently, as someone who has some responsibility to set an example. To be a mensch. It’s OK to be nice and to fight when I need to fight.”

One of the issues that Bennett said he would not hold back from fighting for was “Israel’s right to every centimeter of the Land of Israel.”

Explaining his plan for Israel to annex all of Area C in the West Bank, currently under Israeli military administration, Bennett admitted that there was “no perfect solution” to the conflict with the Palestinians but that the country must not “give in to those who want to see us weakened.”

The bottom line, he said, is “they don’t like us and we don’t them. And we are stuck. The first thing we need to do is to be really really strong, not lose any wars, until our enemies give up the dream of destroying us.

“That will not come by giving up land,” he stressed.

New Right chairwoman Ayelet Shaked (L) and party No 2. Naftali Bennett speak to reporters in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Ellison/Flash90)

Instead of creating a Palestinian state or a one state solution, which Bennett said he “vehemently opposes,” the former Jewish Home and New Right head said the “only solution” was a semi-autonomous Palestinian authority alongside Israel, but one with no military or control over its borders.

Following Bennett in back-to-back interviews, Democratic Camp leader Nitzan Horowitz came at the same issue from the opposite side of the political spectrum, explaining why his left-wing union of Meretz, former prime minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and Labor defector Stav Shaffir, supported “reaching a full peace agreement to create a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.” Horowitz warned that plans to annex parts of the West Bank risked turning Israel into “some kind of apartheid state.”

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