Bayit Yehudi abandoned its threat to leave the coalition if Education Minister Naftali Bennett is not made defense minister, in statements by Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the Knesset Monday.
This development leaves Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon as the sole coalition partner calling for an early election, making it far less likely than it had seemed in recent days.
Kahlon’s spokesman said the minister’s position had not changed, and he still believes a one-seat majority destabilizes the coalition and leaves it open to blackmail and “anti-fiscal bills” from backbenchers.
“If the prime minister is serious in his intentions, I am saying now: We are removing all political demands and standing here to help Israel win again,” Bennett said. “It’s better that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu beat me in politics than [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniyeh beat Israel in the battlefield.”
The Bayit Yehudi leader made his statement in response to remarks Netanyahu made the night before
, saying holding an election now would be irresponsible and a result of petty politics, and
vowing that he is protecting Israel’s security and he has a plan of action against Hamas.
Bennett and Shaked backed down after a week in which the Knesset seemed headed for an election, with Avigdor Liberman resigning from the Defense Ministr
y and pulling Yisrael Beytenu from the coalition, and Bennett immediately demanded to replace him
. Netanyahu said there is no need for an election, but Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon called for an election to take place as soon as possible, and Interior Minister Arye Deri and Bennett joined the call. But Deri retreated from his remarks on Sunday, and on Monday, Bennett did the same.
However, Bennett did express some doubts about Netanyahu’s true intentions. Netanyahu repeatedly warned of a “sensitive security situation” that made this an especially bad time for an early election, but Bennett said: “There’s no apocalypse, there are enemies. We have always had enemies.”
The problem, Bennett argued, is in Israel.
“Israel stopped winning...We set limit after limit...Soldiers are more scared of Army lawyers than [Hamas commander] Yihya Sinwar. We went from defeating enemies to containing them...What the prime minister calls responsibility, our enemies see as hesitation. The ship called Israel sailed in a bad direction in the last decade. What’s worse is that we started to think there is no solution for terrorism,” Bennett said.
“When Israel wants to win, we can win,” he added.
Bennett mentioned that he consulted a special adviser before deciding to stay in the government: Prof. Robert Aumann, who won a Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on game theory.
Bennett said that during coalition negotiations in 2015, Aumann gave him advice that landed Shaked the Justice Ministry, and now Aumann advised him not to resign.
“He told me that even though according to game theory, continuing to push to be defense minister makes the most sense, the country should come first,” Bennett said.
Shaked ripped into Netanyahu in her speech, implying that he put personal vendettas before politics.
“It’s no secret Netanyahu didn’t want us in his government, even though we thought we were his natural ideological partners,” she recounted. “We thought natural partners are meant to work together to promote ideological aims. We were wrong.”
Shaked also pointed out that Netanyahu had promised Bennett the defense portfolio before the 2015 election
, and backed down from that when Bayit Yehudi received fewer seats than the polls had predicted.
As for the decision not to resign, Shaked said it may hurt them personally, they will do what is right for the country.
“Sorry to disappoint, but we are public servants with responsibility. We will not run away from it. Bennett will make sure we win and our enemies fear us again,” she said.
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