President Rivlin: Netanyahu Would Be a Better PM if He Had Competition

In Rosh Hashanah interview, Rivlin also weighs in on domestic Israeli politics, negotiations with Palestinians, and inner cabinet's decisions during Gaza operation.

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President Reuven Rivlin, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
President Reuven Rivlin, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: AP

In a Rosh Hashanah interview to Israel Channel 2 television anchorwoman Dana Weiss on Saturday night, President Reuven Rivlin weighed in on social, political and foreign policy issues as well as his relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In answer to a question about what Weiss called a sense of "sourness" among Israelis in connection to Operation Protective Edge, Rivlin said the feeling stemmed from a lack of information. "I can say to the nation of Israel that the cabinet, the Israel Defense Forces and the rest of the security forces behaved in a manner for which we owe them thanks. Together with all the criticism that I know many people think should be voiced." Rivlin began his presidential term during the military operation in the Gaza Strip.

Asked if he thought there was a leadership crisis in Israel, including a lack of young people with leadership potential, the president said: "We definitely see a trend in Israel of not seeing more than one leader. Undoubtedly a democratic state without an alternative is a danger to democracy itself. We have a prime minister who could be a thousand times better if he knew that someone was challenging his place. If I were to pay attention to polls, in which one of the candidates has around 40-percent support and the others only around 10 percent, that is very worrying."

Regarding his relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Rivlin said: "The premier and the president have a good relationship at this time, meeting and talking by phone whenever either of them thinks he needs to draw the other's attention [to something] or ask for advice."

On the crisis in their relationship, which reached a peak when the prime minister tried to block Rivlin's presidential bid, Rivlin said: "Bibi is like a brother to me, my younger brother." When Weiss pressed him, suggesting that Netanyahu "did everything possible to keep you from the presidency," Rivlin said, "He knows that I reached [the presidency] and treats me as the president, with all due respect."

About the possibility of early elections being called over the difficulties in reaching agreement over the national budget for next year, Rivlin said that in his opinion, "Going to elections rather than addressing the issues of the day would be a bad thing. The election, if it takes place, will not change the order of priorities. Once again it is defense versus social [spending]... Reach a compromise. Until the white smoke comes out." When asked about the differences of opinion between himself and his predecessor, former President Shimon Peres, regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, Rivlin said, "Peres came with a worldview, I also came with a worldview that I have not abandoned and that guides me still."

About Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Rivlin said, "He was elected by the Palestinians. In the event that we decide to conduct negotiations with them in a political framework, the negotiations will only be conducted with someone who is a partner."

Weiss asked Rivlin for his opinion on members of the inner cabinet, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, both of whom attacked decisions taken by Netanyahu and by Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon during the fighting in the Gaza Strip and were vocal about their criticism in both the Israeli and the foreign media.

"I know that sometimes politics creates situations in which people want to say particular things for political reasons. My sense is that the inner cabinet caused a sense of sourness, of something having been missed, among the public that is not truly necessary... In my eyes, we did not miss a thing... The fact is that the inner cabinet made decisions and the cabinet made decisions. As far as I can tell,no cabinet minister resigned as a result of these measures, even if there were times they challenged the way they were carried out."

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