PM-designate Naftali Bennett tells Channel 12 news that when he joined forces with centrist and left-wing parties to form a new government ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “I told my kids that their father was going to be the most hated person in the country. But I explained that I was doing it for the sake of their country.”
He says he “hopes and believes” the new, eight-party government, which appears to have a slender 61-59 majority in the Knesset, will be safely voted into office in the next few days.
He denounces Netanyahu and Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich for leading “a machine that produces nonstop lies.”
Asked about Ra’am party leader and new coalition partner Mansour Abbas, whom he repeatedly called a “terror supporter” before the elections, Bennett says: “Mansour Abbas isn’t a terror supporter. I met an honest man and a brave leader who is reaching out and seeking to help Israeli citizens.”
He insists that his government would take whatever military action is necessary, including in Gaza, despite its reliance on Ra’am. If the coalition were to fall apart after any such operation, “so be it… there’d be elections.”
He says the coalition deal with Ra’am only refers to civil matters, not security issues.
Before the elections, Bennett slammed Netanyahu for negotiating with Ra’am’s Abbas, whose party is the political wing of the southern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement.
Responding to Netanyahu’s and Smotrich’s allegations that his will be a left-wing government, dangerous to Israel’s security, Bennett notes, “It wasn’t me who gave up [much of] Hebron [to the Palestinian Authority]. That was Netanyahu. It wasn’t me who released thousands of terrorists and murderers [in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner deal]. That was Netanyahu. We’re establishing a government with people who think a little differently [from the political right]. That’s all.”
Bennett, a former head of the Settlers’ Council who favors annexation of much of the West Bank, says the new government will not approve any territorial withdrawals. Asked whether he still considers the Palestinian problem to be akin to “shrapnel in the butt” — a 2013 parallel he drew apparently to indicate that living with it was preferable to the surgery of territorial separation — Bennett says this was “a comment that I would have changed in retrospect.” In fact, he goes on, “the national conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinians is not over land. The Palestinians do not recognize the essence of our existence here, and this will apparently be the case for a long time to come.”
His goal, he says, will be to “minimize the conflict. We won’t be able to solve it.” He says he will favor moves to safely improve and ease conditions for the Palestinians — in terms of the economy, freedom of movement and so on– “for a better quality of life.”
Reminded that the left-wing parties in his planned coalition see things differently, he says, “We’ll manage.”