Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett held a long-awaited meeting in Tel Aviv on Monday, the last of Netanyahu's meetings with all the leaders of Knesset's 12 parties since the January 22 election.
A statement released after the meeting said only that they discussed "issues of the day" and plan to meet again.
Unlike official statements released following the prime minister's previous meetings with party leaders, this statement did not mention a "good atmosphere," but was described as "to the point."
The meeting took place after Bennett took to the
airwaves to apologize to Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, for saying that he had endured
“a course on terror” with her.
Even though the Likud had announced Thursday evening that
Netanyahu would meet with Bennett at the beginning of this week, Netanyahu’s
office did not even call Bennett’s associates to organize the meeting until
The last meeting between Netanyahu and the Bayit
Yehudi leader took place five years ago, before Bennett quit his job as
Netanyahu’s chief of staff following a dispute with Sara. In an interview with
Army Radio on Sunday morning, Bennett defended the prime minister’s
“The attacks on Sara Netanyahu are unacceptable,”
Bennett said. “She is a good woman who loves her husband.
He has a right
to consult with her, as I do with my wife. If someone wants to criticize
Netanyahu’s policies, he’s the address, not her.”
said he would devote the meeting to his socioeconomic agenda, which includes
lowering housing costs, rehabilitating poor neighborhoods, an open skies policy
for competition with El Al and advancing a bill that would prevent tycoons from
owning too many companies.
Netanyahu intended to check whether Bennett
would be willing to join a coalition without Yesh Atid, despite reports of a
political deal between Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. Likud sources
have said they would be willing to give Bayit Yehudi better portfolios if they
become the first party to join the coalition.
Bayit Yehudi is seeking the
chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, and while Bennett wants the
Construction and Housing portfolio, he would settle for another top economic
portfolio like Transportation or Industry, Trade and Labor.
with Yesh Atid resumed on Monday. Channel 10 reported that if Lapid is not
given the Foreign Ministry, he might take the Finance portfolio and give it to a
professional economist while taking a less senior ministry for himself. The
report said Lapid told Likud officials that he did not have the skills to be
finance minister or defense minister.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor
Liberman has insisted on Netanyahu holding the Foreign Ministry for him until he
is cleared of charges in his ongoing corruption trials. He continued his recent
attacks on Lapid on Sunday.
“Lapid is wanted in the next government, as
long as he knows he will be a senior coalition partner and not the acting prime
minister,” Liberman said at a Knesset press conference.
“As long as he
realizes that, he is wanted.”
Liberman has gotten closer in recent weeks
with Shas after initially calling for a government without haredim. Bennett,
meanwhile, condemned recent statements by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia
Yosef against Bayit Yehudi and Lapid.
“The statements of Shas against our
party and Lapid are unnecessary,” Bennett said. “I don’t take such statements
personally. But there is no monopoly on the Torah. The world of Torah is no less
important to me than it is to Shas. You can learn Torah and serve in the army
Yosef on Saturday evening criticized the Yesh Atid leader as
“contemptible” and a “yeshiva hater.” His comments come amid coalition
negotiations in which Lapid’s insistence on increasing the haredi army draft is
at odds with Shas’s position.
Lapid is not the first political opponent
that Yosef has lambasted during his weekly Saturday evening
During the election campaign, Yosef lashed out at Bayit Yehudi,
calling it a “house for goyim [non-Jews]” that religious Jews should not vote
In the Army Radio interview, Bennett blamed his party falling from
15 seats in the polls to 12 seats in the election on two public opinion makers
who he said told him they worked to bring down his party: Channel 2 journalist
Amnon Abramovich and Muli Segev, who produces the satire show Eretz Nehederet
Abramovich aired a report before the election that
painted Bayit Yehudi candidate Jeremy Gimpel as an extremist and took statements
he made about the Temple Mount out of context. Eretz Nehederet portrayed Bennett
as a latent extremist.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report