PM said to offer to tap Bennett as UN envoy if he pulls out of election race

Former education minister’s New Right party says proposal ‘irrelevant’; PM seeking to facilitate right-wing merger, a scenario hindered by URWP opposition to Bennett

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Israel Prize ceremony at the International Conference Center (ICC) in Jerusalem on May 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Israel Prize ceremony at the International Conference Center (ICC) in Jerusalem on May 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered former education minister Naftali Bennett the position of Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations if he gives up running in the September Knesset elections as the leader of the New Right party, Hebrew-language media reported Sunday morning.

Netanyahu’s offer would temporarily take Bennett — an ambitious politician with aspirations to succeed him as premier, making him a potential threat — out of the Israeli political arena.

While Bennett himself refused to comment, his party said in a statement: “The New Right movement headed by Naftali Bennett brings a unique message of authentic, moral and liberal right, and of Israeli Judaism free of coercion, and will run in full force in the elections to be a big and strong force in the next government. Any other proposal is irrelevant.”

Sources close to Netanyahu confirmed to the Knesset Channel the proposal had been made, but added that it “probably won’t go forward.”

Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon speaks during a brief press conference before a Security Council meeting at UN Headquarters, July 24, 2018 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

Israel’s current UN ambassador, Danny Danon, will end his term in the coming months. Last week, Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu was cooling on the idea of appointing Gilad Erdan to the position — a popular Likud member who is currently the public security minister.

With several religious right-wing parties preparing to run in the upcoming election, Netanyahu has waged a campaign for them to unite to guarantee they all pass the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent.

Bennett’s New Right narrowly failed to clear that hurdle in the April vote, falling short by some 1,500 votes and therefore not a part of the current Knesset. Had New Right made it into the parliament, Netanyahu would have likely managed to form a governing coalition since he wouldn’t have been dependent on the five seats of Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman, who refused to join due to conflicting demands with the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (R), Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (L), hold a press conference of the New Right party, in Tel Aviv on March 17, 2019. (Flash90)

Bennett and his political partner Ayelet Shaked, a popular former justice minister, quit the Jewish Home party late last year to form New Right. Netanyahu then brokered a merger between Jewish Home, the National Union and the extremist Otzma Yehudit party to create the Union of Right-Wing Parties.

Now, many in the URWP are opposed to Bennett returning to the party he abandoned, making such a merger difficult to achieve. They are more open to the idea of Shaked rejoining, although there is a dispute over whether she or current leader Rafi Peretz should lead the party.

Last Tuesday,  Peretz, who heads Jewish Home, and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the National Union leader, renewed their agreement for the two parties to run together in the coming elections as the Union of Right Wing-Parties. They also called on other right-wing parties to join them, saying in a joint statement that unity among national-religious parties is needed to “in order to maximize our electoral potential and prevent the wasting of votes.”

The far-right Otzma Yehudit party, which also ran in April as part of the URWP, said on Tuesday that it had been excluded from the alliance but that it would consider joining if its candidates were given significant enough placement on the slate. A URWP party source said on Tuesday that Otzma was demanding the 3rd and 6th spots.

Knesset slate must be finalized by the end of July.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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