'With power comes responsibility,' Likud leader says

Netanyahu defends Ben Gvir partnership, says far-right MK has ‘modified’ his views

In NPR interview, PM-designate insists he will be the one calling the shots in future coalition: ‘They are joining me. I’m not joining them’

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu (center) and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir talk at the swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu (center) and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir talk at the swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu told an American media media outlet on Thursday that far-right firebrand MK Itamar Ben Gvir has “modified” many of his views in recent years, and anyway will not be the driving force of the next government.

In an interview with the Washington-based National Public Radio, Netanyahu suggested that Ben Gvir — who has been tapped as the next national security minister with an expanded portfolio — has become more moderate compared to his extremist past.

“First of all, his eligibility [to be a lawmaker] was decided by the Supreme Court,” Netanyahu told NPR, referencing the court’s 2019 decision to clear Ben Gvir to run for the Knesset despite his history of incitement.

“Secondly, he’s modified a lot of his views since then,” Netanyahu said. “And I have to say that with power comes responsibility. Not always; sometimes it works the other way around,” he added, making what appeared to be a reference to the outgoing government.

Referencing Ben Gvir, Netanyahu said that it was one thing to speak during “political campaigns a decade and a half ago, and it’s another to actually be in a position of responsibility in governance, and I certainly will ensure that that will be the case.”

Ben Gvir did not run for office 15 years ago; his first candidacy was in 2019. The Otzma Yehudit party chief has a history of far-right activity and multiple convictions for incitement, racism and terror-related charges.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu (left)and Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir arrive for the swearing-in ceremony for the new Knesset, November 15, 2022. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

In the interview, Netanyahu insisted that he will be at the helm of the expected 64-seat incoming government.

“Coalitions make interesting bedfellows,” he said of his future partners. “They are joining me. I’m not joining them.”

The Likud chairman defended handing Ben Gvir control of the police force as well as some elements of the military in a controversial expanded role.

“I think one of the things that we’ve seen is the erosion of internal security in Israel. It’s a big, big issue. I have to say his party ran on that,” Netanyahu said of Ben Gvir.

“He says, ‘I want to be tested. I think I can bring security to Arabs, the Arab citizens and Jews, citizens alike’… that was his campaign promise. We have a coalition. I said, ‘You will be given the chance. You’ll be given the tools. You better do the job.’ And I think that time will see.”

Asked about Ben Gvir’s past statements calling for the expulsion of Arab citizens of Israel, Netanyahu said: “He doesn’t say that right now, by the way.”

In recent years, Ben Gvir has called instead to encourage Arab Israelis to leave the country, and vowed to deport “terrorists,” though he wields the label broadly, including against most Arab lawmakers in the former Joint List faction.

Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a terror attack near the entrance to Jerusalem, on November 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Asked about a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu laid out a plan with limited sovereignty for the Palestinian Authority.

“The only peace that will hold is one that we can defend,” he said. “And the one that we can defend is one in which the Palestinians have all the powers to govern themselves, but none of the powers to threaten our life, which means that security, in whatever political arrangements we’ll have, realistically will have to remain in Israel’s hands.”

The presumed next prime minister also suggested that a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is looking even less likely.

“I have a suspicion right now that because of the unfolding events, the dramatic events in Iran… I have a clear feeling that today in Washington, people understand that the way to go is not to return to the flawed nuclear agreement, but in fact, to adopt a much more resolute attitude,” Netanyahu said.

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