PM to Reprimand Bennett Following Spat Over Future of Settlements

Netanyahu is furious at Habayit Hayehudi leader, who attacked the PM for saying settlers could remain under Palestinian rule; Likud official: Bennett is going to pay for his actions.

The tension between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett is threatening to turn into a deep crisis that could imperil the existence of the coalition.

Likud sources said on Monday night that Netanyahu is likely to summon Bennett for a harsh talk immediately upon the minister's return from Auschwitz with the Knesset delegation and to tell him off for his behavior and his statements.

Netanyahu is fuming over Bennett's attack on him in response to his remark that settlements could remain within a future Palestinian state, according to people close to the prime minister.

"Bennett is going to pay for what he did," said one of the prime minister's associates. "One year after the election, this shooting from the hip is unacceptable. Even Yair Laid is fed up with him. If sitting in the government is so uncomfortable for him, he can resign."

Senior officials in Habayit Hayehudi later Monday that Bennett would be happy to meet with the prime minister on any occasion, "to continue and coordinate toward the mutual goal of concern for the security of the State of Israel and its citizens, everywhere they reside."

Netanyahu also came in for implied criticism from Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, the lead government representative in the negotiations with the Palestinians, who told a conference in Tel Aviv on Monday night that "the objective is not to unmask the other side and prove that there is no partner, but to arrive at a peace agreement that will serve out interests."

Livni was referring to statements by the Prime Minister's Bureau that Bennett's attack on Netanyahu had "damaged the prime minister's attempt to prove that the true denier of peace is the Palestinian Authority."

The bureau also said that Bennett had acted irresponsibly in saying that Netanyahu's behavior reflected "ethical befuddlement and had "harmed a move that was intended to expose the true face of the Palestinian authority for the sake of a fleeting headline." 

Bennett's bureau retorted that Netanyahu had not told anyone that he was embarking on a move to expose the true face of the Palestinian authority.  "Netanyahu and Bennett sat together for six hours yesterday – first in the full cabinet and then in the security cabinet – and the prime minister made no mention of the issue," sources close to Bennett said. "The next time the prime minister embarks on a brilliant tactical move, he would do well to coordinate it with his ministers."

Livni also criticized Bennett in her remarks at the Tel Aviv conference. "I heard recently from various people that the Jews didn't dream about the Land of Israel for 2,000 years, just to hand over part of it," she said. "But nor did they dream about an isolated state with an Arab majority."

The price of not reaching an agreement with the Palestinians is far higher than the price of reaching one, Livni said. "Those who say that the solution is marketing and public relations are mistaken and mislead others," she said. "It's not just a question of anti-Semitism and Islamization; some of the world's criticism of Israel arises from our own decisions and not our identity as Jews."

The justice minister added that "the future is a Jewish and democratic state, and in order to protect it we need to come to an agreement and give away part of the land."

Referring to the framework document that is being prepared by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Livni said that the American administration supports Israel regarding security measures in the Jordan valley. "There is no contradiction between our demand for security and the Palestinian demand for sovereignty – even if it takes time, the Palestinian state will be independent," she said.  "The withdrawal will be in stages until they have an independent state."

She added that the American framework document will require the leaders of both sides to make difficult decisions. "Most Israelis and Palestinians understand the price of an agreement; we're not reinventing the wheel," she said. "The negotiating framework must be balanced because, if it isn't, one of the sides won't accept it."

Olivier Fitoussi