Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett privately threatened Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that his party would leave the coalition if hundreds of Palestinian prisoners were released, sources in his party revealed on Thursday.
Bennett declined repeated requests to outline his red lines for keeping the party in the coalition in an interview with Channel 2 news.
He merely said that his party’s ministers would oppose a proposed release of Palestinian prisoners, even if the United States released Jonathan Pollard.
“I don’t talk to the prime minister via the television,” Bennett said. “The prime minister knows my redlines well.”
Sources in the party said Bennett outlined his red lines in a meeting with Netanyahu on Monday. Had the 26 prisoners Israel committed to release been freed, Bayit Yehudi would have remained in the coalition, even if Israeli Arabs were among them.
But releasing hundreds of additional prisoners to keep the Palestinians at the negotiations table was unacceptable to Bennett.
Adding Pollard to the equation would not have been enough for Bennett’s constituency, which believes the US should have released him long ago and not in a diplomatic agreement.
There were fierce disagreements in Bayit Yehudi this week over whether and when to threaten Netanyahu.
MKs in the faction pushed Bennett all week to issue the prime minister a public ultimatum.
But Bennett resisted and asked his MKs not to grant interviews to the media. Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel did give interviews but he was careful not to issue any threats.
MK Orit Struck said the party could have left the coalition over any of four issues: Releasing terrorists, releasing Israeli Arab prisoners, a proposed settlement freeze, and offering the Palestinians “protection money” to remain at the negotiating table.
None of the possible threats ended up being necessary because the Palestinians turned to the United Nations rather than accept offers from Israel.
“Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] blew up the talks,” Bennett said. “If he wants to go to the UN, I will buy him a ticket. Our case against him for war crimes should await him.”
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