Bennett Admits He Was Wrong About Islamist Party Head: Abbas Is a 'Brave Leader'

Bennett says he changed his mind about Abbas during Arab-Jewish riots inside Israel that erupted during the latest flare-up with Gaza

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Haaretz
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Yamina leader Naftali Bennett at the Israeli Knesset, Friday
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett at the Israeli Knesset, FridayCredit: Emil Salman
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Haaretz

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett said on Thursday that he sees United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas as a “brave leader” and “a decent man” who is focused on civilian rather than nationalist issues.

Bennett, who was speaking in an interview with Channel 12 News, was also asked about a post in which he termed Abbas “a supporter of terrorism.” He responded that he changed his mind during Arab-Jewish riots inside Israel that erupted during the recent war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“During the war and the riots there was something that caught my attention. Abbas came to the synagogue in Lod during the tensest moments and said, ‘I want to help,’” Bennett said, referring to a synagogue that was torched.

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“I saw a decent man, I saw a brave leader, it must be said. Now, time will tell. I can't guarantee anything. But when he extends a hand and says something very simple: ‘I want to take care of Arab Israelis’ civilian concerns...’ If you look at the coalition agreements, which we’ll make public, you won’t find a single word of nationalism.”

Bennett also said he saw the partnership with UAL as offering “a non-negligible opportunity to turn over a new leaf in the relationship between the state and Arab Israelis."

Asked about his campaign promise not to serve in a government led by Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, even as part of a rotation deal in which he would also serve as prime minister, Bennett responded: “The core promise of this election was to extricate Israel from chaos ... I realized that if we stuck to that [pledge], we wouldn’t extricate the country from chaos.”

Regarding the fact that the ultra-Orthodox parties have been left out of the government, Bennett said, “This government isn’t against them.” Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who will serve as finance minister, promised him that there will be no moves specifically targeting the ultra-Orthodox, though there may be across-the-board cuts, he added.

He also said the new government planned to lower the age at which men are exempt from army service so that “tens of thousands” of ultra-Orthodox men “can go out and get a job.”

Though the Shin Bet security service has assigned bodyguards to him because of the threats against him by right-wing extremists, Bennett said he isn’t afraid of these threats. He said he understood criticism of the fact that he had reneged on his promise about Lapid, but added that he thinks some of the protests against him “are organized for money.”

Bennett said that his longtime partner in politics, Ayelet Shaked, who is Yamina’s no. 2, “had a tough time” with the emerging government, but ultimately agreed to it. Regarding Nir Orbach, who is considered Yamina’s most on-the-fence member, he said, “It’s never entered my head that he’ll turn his back on me. This is an issue of loyalty.”

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