Naftali Bennett at a Bayit Yehudi convention at Tel Aviv University, September 10, 2014..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett expected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to honor his pre-election commitment to appoint him to one of the top three jobs in his next government, sources close to Bennett said Tuesday.
The sources confirmed a Channel 2 report that, in a November 14 meeting, Netanyahu agreed to appoint Bennett as defense minister but reserved the right to try to persuade him to take the Foreign Ministry instead. Shortly after the handshake deal, Netanyahu initiated the election.
In January, not only did Netanyahu and Bennett agree not to attack each other, but their campaigns even met to coordinate strategy. Bayit Yehudi officials said they believe Netanyahu took four or five seats away from their party in the last days of the campaign by deliberately wooing their voters.
Nevertheless, Bayit Yehudi sources said Bennett was “shocked” three weeks ago when Netanyahu told him he would not keep his promise to give him one of the three senior portfolios. Since then, there has been no contact between Netanyahu and Bennett, while progress was made in the prime minister’s meetings with other party heads.
In response, Likud officials said that when the November deal was made, Bayit Yehudi trailed the Likud in the polls by only five seats, but in the March 17 election the Likud won nearly four times as many mandates as Bennett’s party. They said they were surprised a politically savvy former Netanyahu chief of staff like Bennett would actually believe the deal would hold under those circumstances.
A Likud source said Bennett was promised only a “senior portfolio,” not one of the top three. The source said the deal was conditional on Bayit Yehudi receiving enough mandates and not attacking the Likud, but “Bennett criticized Netanyahu throughout the campaign.”
Netanyahu will apparently also not honor a commitment he made when the Likud launched its campaign on January 5 to change the electoral system. In a speech at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds then, he vowed to take steps to strengthen the largest parties and make it easier to govern.
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But Shas and other expected coalition partners said they oppose making such changes, leaving Netanyahu no hope of passing them unless he forms a national-unity government with Labor. A source on the Likud negotiating team said giving up on changing the electoral system is not final and that his team is still mulling how to handle their coalition partners’ demands.
MKs in the Likud and Labor continued to deny Channel 1 news division head Ayala Hasson’s report on Monday that Netanyahu and Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog met before Passover began.
Hasson reported on Tuesday that Netanyahu and Herzog were seen meeting in a quiet neighborhood.
“As far as I know, there wasn’t such a meeting, but I am not sure I’d know if there was,” said Likud minister Gilad Erdan, who would lose the Foreign Affairs portfolio to Herzog if a unity government is formed. “If the nationalist camp doesn’t compromise soon, as time goes on the prime minister might have no choice but to be generous to the Zionist Union.”
Labor faction chairman Eitan Cabel said he trusts Herzog’s commitment to him and party activists that he would not join Netanyahu’s government.
“If the prime minister wants the Zionist Union as a partner, he will do it the right way, like the way of a king and not like a thief in the night,” Cabel told Israel Radio.
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