Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday scolded Education Minister Naftali Bennett for allegedly claiming he had changed Netanyahu’s mind on the possibility of a unilateral West Bank pullout by giving the prime minister a verbal “bullet between the eyes.”
“The things that have been attributed to you are not worthy and also completely contradict the facts,” Netanyahu told Bennett in a phone conversation between the two.
A source in Netanyahu’s Likud party dismissed Bennett’s claims as the product of an overactive imagination.
“That man Bennett has a highly developed imagination, but to our regret he suffers from a severe case of confusion between the real and imaginary world,” said the source, who preferred to remain anonymous. “What started off as taking credit for steps that the prime minister is leading has developed into an utter lack of awareness of the status and place of the education minister in the decision-making process.”
Bennett, who leads the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, allegedly made the offending statements during a private meeting last week with party activists from West Bank settlements, Army Radio reported.
“Abroad Bibi [Netanyahu] talked about unilateral moves; he went back on this after I put a bullet between his eyes,” Bennett reportedly said. He was referring to the prime minister’s backpedaling earlier this month over his comments suggesting that with the correct security measures, Israel could unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank.
The education minister’s remark prompted a fellow party member, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, to caution him to be careful in his choice of words.
Ariel, who was sitting alongside Bennett, immediately called on his party leader to “watch your language.” Bennett responded: “Don’t misunderstand, it is of course a metaphor.”
Bennett then warned the gathering, “If you leak it from here, there will be no more meetings like this.”
When challenged Monday by Army Radio to explain himself, Bennett avoided commenting directly on the bullet metaphor or to reveal exactly what passed between Netanyahu and himself regarding any unilateral Israeli move.
“I am responsible for Israel’s security, and I will not respond about private conversations,” Bennett said. “There will be no unilateral moves as long as I am in the government. I have no intention of being nice when we are talking about a danger to the citizens of Israel.”
Netanyahu had walked backed a comment he made during a visit to Washington, a day after suggesting that an Israeli unilateral pullout from the West Bank was possible under the right conditions if it had the international community’s backing and fully satisfied Israel’s security concerns.