Netanyahu Helped Topple Right-wing Government Before Oslo Accords, Ex-rightist Leader Says

Benny Katzover says he has spoken up after 25 years because he can no longer tolerate similar mendacity by Netanyahu today

Yitzhak Shamir speaking at the Madrid peace conference, October 1991.
Yaakov Saar / GPO

Benny Katzover, a founder of the Gush Emunim settlement movement, has accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of undermining Yitzhak Shamir’s government back in 1992 and hastening its demise.

Katzover was also a leading member of the Tehiya party, which existed from 1979 to 1992. That year, Netanyahu was deputy foreign minister under Likud chief Shamir.

Katzover said that during the Madrid peace conference, which took place from October 30 to November 1, 1991, Netanyahu contacted Tehiya’s leader, Yuval Ne’eman. Netanyahu told him that Shamir was on the verge of breaking under pressure and that only a threat by Tehiya to leave the governing coalition would stabilize him.

“You have to stop Shamir,” Katzover reported Netanyahu as saying.

The prime minister’s aides declined to comment, but a Likud source called Katzover's statements “a complete lie.”

Nir Keidar

Katzover said he was speaking now because he could no longer tolerate what he termed the false accusations by Netanyahu that it was the right flank that got the Shamir government toppled via the June 1992 election that led to the Oslo Accords.

Netanyahu reportedly made a similar accusation this week in his meeting with religious-Zionist rabbis. He urged the rabbis to use their influence to stop the anti-corruption demonstrations in Jerusalem, lest purists on the right again topple a right-wing government, leading to the left’s return to power.

Katzover notes that even though the Tehiya party vigorously opposed going to the Madrid conference, it did not leave the government, despite Netanyahu’s request for the threat.

As Katzover quotes Ne’eman later promising Shamir, even if Tehiya left for ideological reasons, it would still vote with the government. A similar promise was given by Rehavam Ze’evi, the leader of the right-wing Moledet party, Katzover says. Ne'eman died in 2006, Ze'evi in 2001.

Elyakim Haetzni, then a Tehiya Knesset member, adds that other Likud MKs encouraged Tehiya to topple the government, saying an early election would galvanize voters on the right and turn around a sagging performance in opinion polls.

“Likud then was an arena where everyone fought everyone. Ariel Sharon, David Levy, Yitzhak Modai – three senior cabinet members – undermined Shamir and made the party disliked by the public,” Katzover said. “Indeed, when the election came, the public made this clear and Likud lost eight seats in the Knesset,” the right wing split and the Labor Party took power.

But according to the Likud source, Netanyahu actually did the opposite of what Katzover says.

“He warned that toppling the right-wing government would be a disaster for Israel, which indeed is what happened,” the source said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu is convinced that a similar danger is present today if we repeat the same dangerous mistake.”