A confrontation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi's Naftali Bennett broke out Wednesday when the prime minister refused to let the latter’s faction colleague, Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, attend the security cabinet meeting.
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A few hours before Wednesday’s meeting began, Bennett told Netanyahu’s aides that he planned to bring Ariel to the meeting as an observer, in order to balance the “leftist” mix of the group, as he put it.
Just before the meeting, Bennett got a phone call from the Prime Minister’s Office telling him that Netanyahu was refusing to allow Ariel to attend the meeting. Bennett came into the prime minister’s bureau and entered the premier’s office, where the two started to argue. After the argument ended, the two went into the cabinet meeting room, adjacent to the prime minister’s office, and found Ariel there.
“Get out!” the prime minister yelled at Ariel.
Bennett responded that he had the right to bring Ariel to the meeting as a counterweight to Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry (Yesh Atid) and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who have been expressing more moderate views in the security cabinet since the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens on June 12. Both have been attending the recent security cabinet meetings even though neither is a member.
“I’m the prime minister and I decide the makeup of the security cabinet,” Netanyahu thundered.
Bennett replied, “The makeup of the security cabinet is determined by the government, and Perry and Steinitz are not members.”
Netanyahu insisted that Ariel leave. He did so, and Bennett left after him as an act of solidarity, but returned a few minutes later alone for the meeting.
So far, Netanyahu has handled Operation Brother's Keeper well, careful not to slide down any slippery slopes. In the security cabinet meetings he is usually attentive and patient, navigating between Bennett's belligerent suggestions and the more moderate positions espoused by ministers Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya'alon.
Netanyahu has been aided by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who has shot down Bennett's more extreme ideas, such as deporting Palestinians or acting against the Palestinian Authority itself.