Netanyahu: I’d choose elections over Bennett

PM reportedly says he’d rather head to polls than capitulate to Jewish Home’s threats to bolt coalition over prisoner releases

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday dismissed Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett’s recent threats to pull out of the governing coalition, saying he didn’t want to hold elections but wouldn’t reconcile with Bennett over the release of Israeli Arab prisoners in order to avoid them.

“I do not want new elections and do not want this current crisis,” Netanyahu said during a recent meeting with Likud party officials, according to Maariv. “But I’m also not going to commit [political] suicide and I do not intend to run around in circles in order to change Bennett’s opinion on the matter.”

Last week, Bennett, who also serves as economics minister, said his Orthodox-nationalist faction’s 12 Knesset members would leave the government if a deal to release Israeli Arab prisoners as part of an agreement to salvage peace talks with the Palestinians went through.

“If the proposition of releasing Israeli murderers is brought before the government, Jewish Home will oppose it,” he said in a statement late Thursday night. “If the proposal passes — Jewish Home with leave any government that releases murderers who have Israeli citizenship.”

Likud officials assessed that the prime minister would have no choice but to call for new elections if the Jewish Home party decided to walk.

The possible release of Israeli citizens convicted of terror-related offenses has been met with considerable opposition inside the coalition, where more hawkish politicians see it as a breach of Israeli sovereignty. Members of Jewish Home had threatened to pull out of the government last month over the same issue, as had Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud), before Israel nixed the prisoner release.

The release, part of the last group of 104 Arab inmates Israel had agreed to free as part of a pre-talk arrangement in July, was called off at the end of last month after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas applied to join 15 international treaties, some UN-related, which Israel saw as a breach of Ramallah’s commitment to not approach the UN for statehood recognition.

Israeli officials have demanded any deal to continue talks include a retraction of the applications, but Palestinians have steadfastly rejected reversing direction.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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