Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett warned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday night that if a deal in which Israeli Arabs are released passes the cabinet, he would remove his party from the coalition.
The Jerusalem Post reported last week that Bennett had issued similar threats to Netanyahu then but had purposely confined them to private conversations with the prime minister. When talks became more serious on Thursday, Bennett upgraded his threat to a public warning.
“If the deal includes murderers with Israeli citizenship, it would violate Israeli sovereignty,” he said. “Bayit Yehudi would oppose such a deal in the cabinet, and if it passes, the party would leave the government.”
Bennett said his party could not tolerate surrendering to Palestinian extortion. Noting the upcoming Passover holiday, he said the Jews were now free and had a legal system to protect them from terrorists.
The diplomatic developments caught right-wing politicians off guard. Just on Wednesday, Bennett began a public relations campaign pushing his plan to annex the settlement blocs in Area C of Judea and Samaria, assuming the diplomatic process had ended.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin warned Netanyahu on Thursday not to return to a diplomatic deal that would involve the mass release of terrorist murderers and restraining construction in Judea and Samaria, if the Palestinians did not withdraw their petitions to join UN bodies.
Signing such a deal under the current conditions could cause political shock waves and lead to elections, the deputy minister said.
Elkin thus became the first high-ranking Likud politician to warn of early elections, four days after Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman spoke at Sunday’s Jerusalem Post Conference in New York about the possibility of Israel going to the polls.
“Returning to the deal would project weakness and give the Palestinians a reward for their stubbornness,” Elkin said. “It would result in them attacking Israel internationally even more. We cannot turn the other cheek when they spit at us in the face. Surrendering to Palestinian hostility has only brought upon us disasters.”
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) said he intends to resign from his post if a diplomatic arrangement to extend the talks with the Palestinians is reached. But other politicians are not expected to follow suit, because the deal would be softened by the inclusion of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.
Well-placed sources involved in efforts to bring about Pollard’s release said they were cautiously optimistic about the diplomatic developments and were hoping to welcome him home to Jerusalem. His medical condition required him to leave prison and seek urgent medical care in Israel, they said.
Should Pollard be allowed to fly to Israel in time for the Passover Seder, the last El Al flight that would arrive in time departs from New York at 7 p.m. local time on Sunday. Using a private plane or the government of Israel sending an airplane are also possibilities.