Bennett: There should have been less Zelensky, more Silman. Less MBZ, more Orbach

Also in their interview, Channel 12’s Dana Weiss shows PM Naftali Bennett a clip on her phone of Yamina MK Idit Silman, the former coalition whip who quit his government, saying to Likud MK Yariv Levin as they walk downstairs in the Knesset, “I was good to the end.”

Asked about the scene, which seems to amount to Silman seeking praise from the Likud MK for helping Netanyahu and the opposition oust her own party’s government and prime minister, Bennett looks sorrowful and pauses.

“I don’t have much to say,” he then says. “That’s a painful picture. It’s not her fault. It’s my fault. They killed her. The people from the Bibi and Smotrich machine turned her into a liar, and a cheat, and a fantasist… and I was busy with Iran.”

In retrospect, he says, he should have spent more time with Silman and other Yamina MKs such as Nir Orbach, and been more supportive.

“[Even as a prime minister] you need to devote 30-40 percent of your time to politics,” he says. “Less Zelensky, more Silman. Less MBZ [the UAE’s Mohamed bin Zayed] and more Nir Orbach.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) with MK Idit Silman at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Having partnered with left-wing and Arab parties in the outgoing coalition, Bennett acknowledges that he would not be a welcome visitor these days to settlements such as Beit El, Ofra or Kiryat Arba, some of whose residents voted for his right-wing Yamina and many of whom are furious with him for his political choices.

“Many of them have been through a year where they felt anxiety, anger and harm. They feel the country was taken away from them. It’s really not true: We boosted security; we held the [Jerusalem Day] flag march; we continued to build homes at the settlements, even more than in the past. But that was their feeling.”

Weiss reminds him that he’d promised not to partner with Ra’am, or to sit under Lapid, to whom he is about to transfer the premiership, and that they feel he defrauded them.

With time, he responds, his coalition will come to be regarded as having overseen “a very successful year.”

When you took office, says Weiss, the Netanyahu-led opposition was in far weaker shape, and the Ben Gvir-Smotrich Religious Zionism party had needed Netanyahu’s help to even get into the Knesset. Now the Netanyahu-led bloc almost has a Knesset majority, and Religious Zionism is at close to 10 seats, according to the polls. Maybe, she asks, that proves you didn’t succeed?

“It’s certainly a reaction to the government, and to the despicable campaign that persuaded many that we were strengthening Hamas, when we were doing the opposite,” says Bennett. He adds that his government has sent the IDF to tackle terrorism on a nightly basis. “We are killing the terrorists in their homes.”

He protests that he’s been accused of enabling terrorists to kill Israelis’ children. “Netanyahu was never accused of this… It’s a terrible thing, that has to be uprooted.”

He says what’s doing now is finalizing a dossier for Yair Lapid, so that when Lapid takes over as prime minister in a few days, he’ll be as prepared as possible. “Because this is the hardest job in the universe.”

Bennett says he’s been much changed by his year in office. “I won’t demonize anybody… Mansour Abbas is not a supporter of terrorism,” he stresses, countering opposition attacks on the Ra’am leader.

He promises: “You won’t see me so quickly signing public pledges,” such as he did before last year’s elections vowing not to partner with Ra’am or sit in a Lapid coalition. “That’s not the way.”

“Today, I’m someone who wants to believe in the good in everyone, and to unify,” says Bennett. “Together, together, together. How? That’s complicated.”

So is this a farewell interview? “I haven’t decided,” he says. It will depend on what’s good for Israel. Lots of people are telling him to continue. “At home, less so,” he says with a rueful smile.

“I will want to return,” he adds. “I think I was a prime minister who tried to do good for his people and his country. I think I succeeded. The Holy One, blessed be he, and the people of Israel will decide.”

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