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For Bennett It’s Back to Business as Usual, but Netanyahu Doesn’t Forget So Easily

Netanyahu waits for 'the right moment' to get back at Bennett, while proclaiming: 'My positions are the consensus.'

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Tuesday at the annual conference of the Institute of National Security Studies in Tel Aviv less than two hours after Economy Minister Naftali Bennett reiterated criticism of the prime minister, from the same podium. Bennett called Netanyahu’s suggestions that settlers could remain in the West Bank under Palestinian rule a “trial balloon.”

Netanyahu did not comment directly on the deep crisis that has developed between him and Bennett, nor did he respond to the economy minister’s charges.

He did, however, send one barb Bennett’s way, saying: “I don’t want a binational state. Most of the Israeli public does not want a binational state.”

What Netanyahu wants to say is: "I am in the center. My positions are the consensus and the public is with me and not with Bennett - he wants to annex most of the West Bank." Most of the people in audience at the ostentatious conference were members of the old elite – men, security experts, Ashkenazis, conservatives and Mapainiks, who greeted Netanyahu’s remarks with relative warmth, especially compared to the cool reception Bennett received.

Bennett heard from media reports during his 24-hour visit to Auschwitz that Netanyahu intends to reprimand him over his previous criticism. Arriving at the conference a few hours late after spending six hours in a malfunctioning plane on the tarmac at Krakow, the economy minister seemed unworried by the prospect of being chastised by Netanyahu.

Bennett’s criticism at Tuesday’s conference was less direct than his previous statements. “Neither our forefathers, nor our descendants will forgive the Israeli leader who gives away our land and divides our capital,” he said, pausing for applause, which came only sparingly.

Bennett then returned to the issue of leaving the settlements under Palestinian sovereignty. “A new idea has risen,” he said. “Jews will live in their lands, but under Palestinian sovereignty. This will not happen, nor can it. Do you know why? Why Jews cannot live under Palestinian sovereignty? Why Palestinians cannot rule over Israelis? Because they’ll kill them. "

"How do I know? Because it has already happened," he added. "In Hebron, there were Jews living in peace with their Arab neighbors, but then one day in 1929, they got up and killed the Jews. Just like that, those same Arab neighbors killed them.” Bennett went on to offer gory descriptions of the 1929 events.

Bennett then resumed discussing today: “If an Arab civilian goes to Herzliya, he will come out whole and healthy, and that’s a good thing. If a Jew would go into Jenin by accident, he’ll be murdered. It’s not very complex, it’s simple, and everyone sitting here knows it.”

Bennett said Netanyahu’s idea of settlers living under the Palestinian rule is “a U-turn, as far as Zionism is concerned. We already tried that in Europe, and it didn’t quite work out. What are the ramifications of even brining such an idea up? What does that tell us?”

“I demand that this idea be taken off the agenda,” he said.

Despite Bennett’s cool reception at the conference and the major tension with Netanyahu, the economy minister seemed pleased. He feels he managed to burst the “trial balloon” even before Netanyahu had fully inflated it. He told his associates that this was his lesson from the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, and added, in closed meetings Tuesday “if yet another bizarre idea comes up I’ll shoot it down.”

And what about the reprimand? Bennett is not waiting for a phone call from Netanyahu’s office, but neither does he want to continue the face-off. From his point of view it’s business as usual. But it is not at all certain that Netanyahu feels the same way. Members of the prime minister’s inner circle said Tuesday that even if Bennett is not summoned to a meeting with Netanyahu, a response will eventually come.

“We will act when we see fit,” a senior Netanyahu associate said. “We are studying all kinds of ideas for punishments and reprisals. At the right place and the right time, Bennett will get his and pay the price.”

Naftali Bennett speaking at the INSS conference. Tel Aviv, January 28, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod

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