Benjamin Netanyahu banned a Jewish Home lawmaker from emergency Saturday night talks on a controversial outpost bill, after the MK made uncomplimentary remarks to an Israeli newspaper about the prime minister’s political ideology and character.
“You said that I was neither right-wing nor trustworthy, so you are not coming in here,” Netanyahu told Bezalel Smotrich ahead of the meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, according to Channel 2. “I do not want to sit with you.”
Amid a cabinet row over his party’s bill to legalize outposts built on private Palestinian land, Smotrich in an interview published Friday cast doubt over Netanyahu’s commitment to right-wing policies, and accused him of harming the country.
“Netanyahu is not right-wing,” Smotrich told Haaretz newspaper. “Until Netanyahu arrived it was clear — in Israel and the world — that there is a right wing and a left wing. When the left wing is in power, you can have talk of a two-state solution, and when the right is in power, there’s nothing to talk about. He created a false impression that a consensus exists between right and left over the two-state solution. It’s not true, it erodes people’s consciousness, and does damage to the positions and interests of Israel.”
Netanyahu’s cabinet is divided over the so-called Regulation Bill, which includes a clause to include the Amona outpost among the illegal settlement satellites whose status will be changed by the legislation. According to Knesset sources, the clause is opposed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party, as the High Court of Justice has ordered Amona to be evacuated and demolished by December 25. The clause would effectively overturn the High Court ruling.
Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, the chairman of the national-religious Jewish Home party, were to meet again Sunday morning in an effort to reach a compromise before the legislation is brought up for a vote in the Knesset on Monday.
Bennett indicated Saturday night that his party would not be willing to back down on Amona.
“Nothing has been concluded regarding the regulation of settlements in [the West Bank],” the Jewish Home leader wrote on Facebook. “We expect the Regulation Bill to pass in full as required by the coalition agreement.”
Smotrich hinted to Haaretz that if Amona is not included in the bill and therefore demolished, his party’s eight MKs would pull out of the coalition, leaving the prime minister with a minority government of 59.
“It will be very difficult, not to say impossible, to remain in a government that evacuates Amona,” Smotrich said.
The MK also compared Netanyahu unfavorably to Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion, who declared the independence of nascent Jewish state in 1948 and became its first prime minister.
“Probably if Netanyahu had been there instead of Ben-Gurion, a state would not have come into being,” he told Haaretz. “Ben-Gurion had courage: Against all the odds, he established a state.”
This is not the first time that Netanyahu, who also serves as communications minister and is a frequent critic of parts of Israel’s diverse print and electronic media, has hit back over unfavorable press coverage.
Earlier this month, he assailed respected Channel 2’s investigative journalist Ilana Dayan over a critical report into the inner workings of his office, calling her “a left-wing extremist.”
The prime minister responded to Dayan’s program with a three-page, 680-word tirade, that she read out in full, in which he said she “does not have an iota of professional integrity” and branded her “one of the ring-leaders of the orchestrated attacks on… Netanyahu, which seek to bring down the right-wing government.”
Netanyahu’s scathing attack was quickly met with outrage by politicians.