Netanyahu said to meet Ben Gvir one-on-one after minister left out of security talks

PM and allies reportedly reaching out to Otzma Yehuda leader to undo damage as well as address demands on reducing prisoners rights, but unclear if any progress made at sit-down

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) shakes hands with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (R) at the Knesset, alongside other coalition party heads ahead of passing the 2023-2024 state budget vote, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) shakes hands with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (R) at the Knesset, alongside other coalition party heads ahead of passing the 2023-2024 state budget vote, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly hosted National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir for a private meeting on Sunday in an attempt to defuse tensions after Ben Gvir was excluded from a high-level meeting on security matters earlier in the day.

The meeting at the Dan Hotel in Caesarea, the coastal city where Netanyahu has a private residence, lasted for several hours, the Ynet news site reported on Monday.

Senior Likud officials also reached out to Ben Gvir as the coalition sought to unruffle ties after the perceived snub and deal with a festering rift, the report said. The Likud officials were said to remind Ben Gvir that the government would fall if Otzma Yehudit pulls out of Netanyahu’s ruling alliance.

Ben Gvir’s absence from Sunday’s meeting with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, military brass and other top officials amplified reports that the hardline nationalist had become an unwelcome presence at top-level security meetings due to a penchant for far-reaching demands thought liable to increase tensions with Palestinians and the international community.

Netanyahu earlier attempted to downplay his exclusion of Ben Gvir from the security meeting, claiming the subject matter fell outside the minister’s purview, which mainly involves police matters. A statement from the premier’s office maintained that the relationship between the two is in good order.

Likud officials said during the one-on-one meeting with Ben Gvir, Netanyahu sought to reach agreements with Ben Gvir regarding the far-right minister’s demands regarding Palestinian security prisoners, but it was unclear if the two had made headway in the meeting, the Ynet report said.

Ben Gvir has been trying to convince Netanyahu to allow him to reduce the frequency of prisoners’ family visitation rights from once a month to once every two months. The minister said last month he was suspending his support of the coalition until the demands are met, though the move had little impact with the Knesset in recess. Lawmakers are slated to return for the Knesset’s winter session on October 15.

File: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (left) and members of the IDF General Staff forum attend a Jewish New Year’s greeting at the military headquarters in Tel Aviv, September 14, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

As national security minister, Ben Gvir’s remit mainly deals with managing the police and handling security challenges inside sovereign Israel, but the ultranationalist, accused by critics of being a firebrand populist, has also sought aggressive responses to Palestinian terror in Gaza and the West Bank seen as likely to increase tensions.

According to reports, the demands have strained ties between Ben Gvir and Gallant while distracting from more conventional proposals.

An unnamed source close to Netanyahu earlier said Ben Gvir has a tendency to propose measures at security meetings that would complicate matters for Israel on the global stage.

“He comes to meetings and constantly strives for targeted killings, a ban on bringing in workers from the Gaza Strip, and strange closures on all kinds of villages and cities in the West Bank,” the source said. “He does not understand that with such a policy the prime minister could not fly anywhere, and certainly not receive receptions around the world.”

In a statement to reporters, the Prime Minister’s Office said the classified Sunday afternoon meeting with defense officials was “focused on Iran and did not deal with any internal security issues.”

The meeting was attended by Gallant, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet security service chief Ronen Bar, and top generals from the army’s senior staff.

Netanyahu’s office denied any such schism between the coalition allies, claiming the two would “continue cooperating fully.”

“Any attempt to create friction between the prime minister and the national security minister and to purportedly attribute it to sources close to the prime minister is completely false — and are done purposefully,” said the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Ben Gvir did not comment about either meeting, but during the security summit tweeted a headline referring to increased Jewish visits to the Temple Mount, a potentially explosive issue, commenting, “This is what governance looks like!”

File: National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, center, visits the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 21, 2023. (Courtesy: Minhelet Har Habayit)

There has been a recent increase in security meetings as Israel goes through the High Holiday period, which has included, among other measures, a major police operation to deploy thousands of officers at key locations, primarily in Jerusalem to secure events during the month-long period.

Aside from the internal security concerns, the meeting Sunday came amid US efforts to reach an agreement for normalization with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have made it clear that any such deal would require significant measures toward the establishment of a Palestinian state, which Ben Gvir rejects.

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