Netanyahu to Meet With Bennett After Latter Apologizes for Joke About PM's Wife

Amid much speculation about the relationship between them, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Habayit Hayehudi's leader will meet for coalition negotiations on Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet on Monday with Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett for the first time since the election in January. The meeting is set for noon at the prime minister’s office in the Kirya military compound in Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu scheduled the meeting only on Sunday afternoon, although Likud officials had announced last week that such a meeting would take place. The announcement came only after Bennett issued another apology for comments he made about the prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu, and complimented her in a media interview.

Naftali Bennett worked as Netanyahu's chief of staff starting 2006, leading his primary re-election efforts in August of 2007. He found himself at odds with the veteran advisers in Netanyahu's office, and left the staff on March 2008, after only 18 months.

Bennetts reported difficulties with Netanyahu's wife Sarah made headlines in the wake of a humerous remark he made about their relationship on a radio interview conducted shortly after the elections, in which he said 'they had been in a terrorism course together'.

"The attack on Sara Netanyahu is quite inappropriate,” Bennett told Army Radio in an interview on Sunday. “She is a good woman, she loves her husband and it is certainly his right to consult with her just like I consult with my wife,” he said.

Referring to a remark he had made about Sara Netanyahu in mid-January, he said: “My joke, which would have better been left unsaid - about the ‘terror course’ – was used to attack her and I am sorry about that. If someone wants to criticize Netanyahu’s policies, he is the address, not her,” Bennett said.

Bennett told the interviewer that the delay in scheduling the meeting was not about “matters of prestige,” but rather technical exigencies. “I am not a private person. I represent a huge public seeking real solutions to the problem of sharing the burden and incorporating the ultra-Orthodox into the government, as well as economic issues – solutions that must come quickly. Let’s not get into gossip and small things.” 

The flattering remarks about Mrs. Netanyahu were similar to comments made repeatedly by Bennett in the media over recent weeks, when asked about ill will between them.

In January, Haaretz revealed that the prime minister had “marked” Bennett as the source of leaks of three stories from his bureau to the media.

Bennett was accused, along with his then-bureau chief, now a Habayit Hayehudi lawmaker, MK Ayelet Shaked, of leaking information to Channel 10 about Netanyahu’s foreign travels, to Yedioth Ahronoth about Netanyahu’s campaign contributors and to the state comptroller and police that led to a probe regarding money allegedly given to Netanyahu by ultra-Orthodox businessman Dedi Graucher. In the latter case, the police determined there was no evidence to support the allegation.

Bennett has over the past few days firmly denied these accusations against him.

19th Knesset to open with Lapid speech

Meanwhile, Yair Lapid, another central contender for partnership in Netanyahu's new coalition, is slated to deliver his first address to the Knesset plenum on Monday, making him the first of the 48 new Knesset members to take the stage. He was given the honor as the leader of the Knesset's second-largest party. If longstanding traditions are upheld, he can expect to speak without being interrupted, and to have the other party heads line up to shake his hand immediately afterward.

Monday's speech lineup has yet to be finalized. After Lapid, another eight rookie MKs are expected to speak, among them Labor's Omer Bar-Lev and Stav Shafir, Hatnua's David Tzur and Elazar Stern, and Yesh Atid's Yael German and Miki Levi.

With the composition of the new coalition yet to be announced, the Knesset's committees will not convene. Three of the committees – the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Economic Affairs Committee, and the House Committee – will be temporarily staffed in order to permit their regular functioning.

Emil Salman
David Bachar