Tensions between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett reached new heights Monday when they battled over the possibility of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria remaining in a Palestinian state.
Relations between Netanyahu and Bennett have been strained since Bennett left his job as Netanyahu’s chief of staff in 2008, reportedly over a financial dispute. Netanyahu appointed Bennett to his cabinet reluctantly and has angered him by keeping him out of the loop on key issues.
The current fight began when Netanyahu’s office floated a trial balloon about leaving Jewish communities in the territory that would be transferred to Palestinian control, in a prospective agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Bennett called the idea dangerous and said it reflected a lack of values. His condemnation enraged officials in the Prime Minister’s Office who floated the idea in order to force Abbas to rule out Jews living in a Palestinian state on the day when the Holocaust is commemorated internationally.
“Now instead of Abbas being caught in a trap, Bennett was the first one to respond,” a source close to Netanyahu said.
“Had the Palestinians condemned the idea, it would have exposed them as racist and anti-Semitic. Bennett is irresponsibly harming national interests and diplomatic procedures intended to expose the true face of the PA in order to receive headlines.”
Sources close to Netanyahu went further and accused Bennett of behaving in a non-collegial manner.
They even dared him to leave the government over progress in talks with the Palestinians.
“If he is unhappy, he can quit, but we don’t think he will, because he has no accomplishments,” a source close to Netanyahu said.
Bennett’s associates responded that the next time Netanyahu has an idea for “a brilliant spin campaign,” he should update his ministers.
They noted that top Likud politicians had also condemned the idea of leaving Jews under Palestinian sovereignty and that Netanyahu’s office has not denied that the matter is being seriously considered.
A source close to Bennett pointed out that he sat in meetings with Netanyahu for hours on Sunday, and the prime minister had ample time to update him about his plan. The source said that Bennett would have happily delayed his reaction until Abbas responded, had Netanyahu asked.
Netanyahu reportedly called Bennett to schedule a meeting in which he will scold him.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni complained about Netanyahu’s plan, proving that she was also not consulted about the maneuver.
“Our goal is not to remove a mask from Abbas but to reach an agreement with him,” she said.