Sources: Netanyahu's Conflict With Bennett Is Personal, Not Political

Habayit Hayehudi leader's reported difficulties with Netanyahu’s wife made headlines after the prior joked in a television interview conducted shortly before the election that he and Sara 'had been in a terrorism class together.'

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Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have said over the past few days that Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi could have become the first partner to enter the new Israeli coalition, were it not for the personal conflict between the Netanyahu family and Bennett.

“It’s all personal. Netanyahu doesn’t want Bennett at the coalition table because of the baggage between them," said an associate of the premier. "If someone else were the head of Habayit Hauehudi, the party could have signed a coalition agreement long ago."

"After all, there are no yawning gaps between Netanyahu’s world view and that of Habayit Hayehudi," the source added. "Instead of discussing the essential matters, Netanyahu has refused to meet with Bennett until today, or have a serious telephone conversation with him."

The sources said it was not clear whether the personal conflict between Netanyahu and Bennett would have an adverse effect on their cooperation, or whether Netanyahu will succeed in making a fresh start with him after their meeting later Monday.

“It’s hard to see how Bennett will succeed in joining Netanyahu’s government, or standing out in the coalition, even after he is appointed a minister," said an associate. "As things look now, he won’t have open access to the prime minister, and it’s doubtful that he’ll receive public support from him for the reforms he wants, or become a true ally of the incoming government.”

Bennett’s meeting with Netanyahu was set for noon Monday at the Kirya military compound in Tel Aviv. The announcement of the meeting came after Bennett issued another apology for comments he had made during the election campaign about the prime minister’s wife, Sara.

Bennett worked as Netanyahu’s chief of staff for 18 months, starting in 2006. His reported difficulties with Netanyahu’s wife made headlines when Bennett joked in a television interview conducted shortly before the election that he and Sara “had been in a terrorism class together.” Referring to the terrorism class joke, Bennett told Army Radio Sunday: “My joke about the ‘terror course,’ which would have been better left unsaid, 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 the delay in scheduling the meeting with Netanyahu was caused by technical exigencies.

“I represent a huge public seeking real solutions to the problem of sharing the burden [of military service] and incorporating the ultra-Orthodox into the government, as well as economic issues solutions that must come quickly,” Bennett said.

Naftali Bennett at the President’s Residence, after recommending that Benjamin Netanyahu form the next government, January 31. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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