Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was forced to appear in the Knesset on Monday to refute the opposition’s charges that he was engaged in peace talks with the Palestinians, including over territorial concessions.
Bennett addressed a special Knesset session under the headline of “The Bennett-Abbas government’s renewal of the diplomatic process for dividing the land and establishing a terror state in the heart of the Land of Israel,” after opposition lawmakers gathered the 40 necessary signatures to mandate his attendance.
The name of the session refers to Bennett’s coalition partner, Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas, as well as the potential establishment of a Palestinian state as part of any peace agreement. Bennett is a right-wing lawmaker, opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, though his diverse coalition includes dovish parties that firmly back a two-state solution.
“I was asked to respond… Here is my answer: There are no negotiations on establishing a terror state in the heart of the land,” Bennett said in very brief remarks from the podium.
His government has also expressed its opposition to the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem for the Palestinians.
During the heated Knesset session, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu referred to Bennett as a “puppet” prime minister, claiming world leaders do not take him seriously.
His comments came after Bennett traveled to Scotland for UN climate talks, where he met with numerous world leaders last week.
“World leaders don’t take Bennett seriously because they know he’s a puppet prime minister, who won’t clear the electoral threshold [in the next election]. Bennett’s sole role is to actualize the left’s dream and give [Foreign Minister Yair] Lapid the premiership,” said Netanyahu.
Under their coalition agreement, Bennett will vacate the Prime Minister’s Office for Lapid in 2023.
“It turns out that Bennett is not only one of the greatest deceivers, he also has a special sub-expertise in the field of fraud,” the former prime minister said. “Bennett is also one of the greatest at stealing credit in the current era, some say the greatest of them all.”
He claimed the prime minister was taking credit for economic achievements that were the result of policies enacted under his tenure.
The Knesset session was the initiative of the far-right Religious Zionism party, which claimed the government has “renewed the diplomatic process with the Palestinian Authority.” The back-and-forth followed an earlier Knesset session that marked the passing of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
There are currently no public peace talks being held with the PA, with the process moribund since 2014. The new government has taken steps, however, to boost trust between Israel and the Palestinians.
Defense Minister Bennett Gantz in August met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the first such public meeting between high-level Israeli and Palestinian officials in over a decade. At a briefing following the meeting, Gantz called for the PA to be bolstered as a bulwark against Hamas and other terror groups.
The defense minister in August also said that Israel had offered to transfer NIS 500 million ($155 million) to the Palestinian Authority, in order to keep the cash-strapped government afloat.
Israel has also increased the number of permits for Palestinian workers to enter Israel, mostly for construction.