Bayit Yehudi sources continued to insist that Economy Minister Naftali Bennett did not apologize to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu following the latter’s ultimatum, as the party got a five-seat boost in polls on Thursday.
“The ultimatum [apologize or be fired from the cabinet] did not influence Bennett. He just didn’t want to insult Netanyahu. His goal was not to disrespect the prime minister, and he fixed things responsibly,” Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked said.
The prime minister on Wednesday demanded that Bennett apologize for his harsh censure of Netanyahu’s suggestion that settlements may come under Palestinian rule in a future agreement, with Bennett saying on Tuesday that “our forefathers and the descendants of our descendants will not forgive an Israeli leader who gives up our land and divides our capital.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, meanwhile, said Bennett did the “right thing” by “apologizing,” and took him to task for lashing out against Netanyahu.
“It is possible to disagree with the prime minister, to argue with the prime minister, but you cannot lash out at the prime minister,” he said.
More important, he added, there was never an intention to leave Israeli citizens under Palestinian rule.
“I don’t know how this interpretation was given, but I can say there was not and will not be an intention to leave any Israeli settler under Palestinian rule. I am glad the matter ended the way it did.”
Bennett addressed his earlier remarks on Wednesday afternoon, saying he never intended to insult the prime minister, but that it is his responsibility to criticize Netanyahu “when necessary.”
The Bayit Yehudi chairman admitted that “it has been a complex few days for all of us,” on his Facebook page on Thursday, but ended on an optimistic note, writing “I love you my sisters and brothers” to the people who “strengthened” him.
“We need to maintain a good working relationship, so if this was important to the prime minister, it is important enough for the State of Israel,” Shaked told Army Radio, explaining Bennett’s statements after Likud sources said he gave in and apologized.
A Bayit Yehudi source said on Thursday that the claim by Likud officials that Netanyahu had a dismissal letter ready for Bennett on Wednesday night was not credible. Haredi parties wouldn’t join the coalition because of Yesh Atid’s presence there, and Labor would not either, because there hasn’t been any real progress in peace talks, he explained.
“We stopped at the right time. We could have torn the Likud apart if we wanted to,” a party source said.
Another Bayit Yehudi source asked, “Where were the dismissal letters for Likud deputy ministers?” referring to Ophir Akunis, Tzipi Hotovely, Danny Danon and Ze’ev Elkin, who sharply criticized the idea of leaving Jews under Palestinian sovereignty.
Likud sources would not answer questions as to how Netanyahu could accept Bennett’s apology when the Bayit Yehudi leader did not express any contrition.
However, they pointed on Wednesday night and Thursday to Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel of Bayit Yehudi as the architect of Bennett’s “apology.”
Highlighting tensions between Bennett and Ariel, the leader of the Tekuma party which is part of the Bayit Yehudi faction, the economy minister’s spokeswoman pointed to Bennett’s wife, Gilat, as the person who convinced him to set his ego aside and end the coalition crisis.
Still, Ariel did suggest the same to Bennett throughout Wednesday, as did Shaked.
Meanwhile, a Knesset Channel- Panels poll – conducted in part before and in part after Bennett said he did not mean to offend Netanyahu – showed Bayit Yehudi jumping from 12 to 17 Knesset seats (out of 120) if an election were held now.
Likud Beytenu dropped one seat in the poll, to 30, followed by Labor going from 15 to 19.
Yesh Atid would drop from 19 to 12 seats, Meretz would gain five seats for a total of 11, Shas would go down to seven, and United Torah Judaism stayed as-is with seven. Hatnua, Hadash and Balad each got four seats, followed by the United Arab List- Ta’al at three and Kadima staying at its current two.
Also on Thursday, Liberman said, in a reference to the efforts to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, that any comprehensive agreement needed to include Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. His comments came during a visit to the region.
“I think that a part of any package, any comprehensive agreement, there has to be an understanding between us and the international community, first and foremost with the US, that the Golan Heights is an integral and inseparable part of Israel,” the foreign minister said.
Liberman said it was clear to everyone that the security risks involved in defending the northern part of the country necessitated recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.