Presumptive prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that only he would call the shots in his new government, and then immediately backed down. He acknowledged he would share his decision-making with the Religious Zionist Party when it came to civilian matters in the West Bank’s Area C.
“I will govern and I will lead and I will navigate this government,” he said in a video interview he gave to Dubai-based Al Arabiya English. “The other parties are joining me and I am not joining them. Likud is one half of this coalition.”
His words echoed a similar statement he gave in an interview published on Thursday by the US-based National Public Radio, as he continued to work to form a coalition with far-right parties by the December 21 deadline.
“I will have two hands firmly on the steering wheel,” he told NPR.
In the Al Arabiya interview, he emphasized that only he and the defense minister would make decisions with regard to the West Bank. “I didn’t hand over great powers in Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, not at all,” he said.
Likud issued a clarification within hours explaining that this statement did not refer to the IDF’s Civil Administration, which has oversight of settlement activity and Palestinian construction and these would now come under the purview of presumptive finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, who heads RZP.
Decisions regarding the Civil Administration would be done in consultation between the RZP and Netanyahu, the Likud clarified.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid took a potshot at Netanyahu on Twitter noting that in English, he had stated: “I’m in charge,” but in Hebrew he apologized to Smotrich, explaining he didn’t mean it.
“Netanyahu will be a junior partner in the government,” Lapid warned.
NPR expressed its concern about who is in charge when it came to the government’s readiness to protect the rights of minority citizens.
International concern has focused in part on far-right partners such as incoming deputy minister Avi Maoz, who heads the Noam Party and incoming Public Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir of Otzma Yehudit.
Netanyahu has attempted to quell fears about the extent to which his government will adopt far-right policies.
The government, he said, would protect the rights of Israeli LGBTQ or Arab citizens.
“I will not let anyone do anything to LGBTQ or to deny our Arab citizens their rights or anything like that. It just won’t happen and the test of time will prove that,” he said.
NPR pushed him, particularly about Ben-Gvir who in the past been convicted of racial incitement and has been affiliated with the outlawed anti-Arab Kach party. Ben-Gvir has spoken of Israeli Arab politicians as terrorists and has called for “disloyal” Israeli Arabs to be expelled from the country.
A video shot this year and circulated before the election showed him brandishing a pistol and calling on the police to shoot Israeli Arabs. His new post will place him in charge of the police and he has asked for expanded powers over that law enforcement body.
Netanyahu said “Ben-Gvir has modified a lot of his views” adding that “with power comes responsibility... and I will ensure that will be the case.”
There has been an erosion of internal security in Israel and Ben-Gvir campaigned on bringing security to all citizens, Netanyahu explained.
Ben-Gvir “says, ‘I want to be tested. I think I can bring security to .. the Arab citizens and Jews, citizens alike. That was his campaign promise. We have a coalition. I said, ‘you will be given the chance. You’ll be given the tools. You better do the job. And I think that time will [tell].
When pressed if the public should trust Ben-Gvir based on his campaign pledges, Netanyahu said, “I don’t think anybody should trust anybody based on their promises.… What will be the test is not whether you believe him or not, but whether you see an actual result. The same is true of me.”
At a Wednesday event in the Knesset that is part of the GPO’s Christian Media Summit, Ben-Gvir struck a moderate tone, saying, “I want to be the public security minister that worries about everyone, religious and non-religious, Jews and Arabs and all our children, so they can walk securely on the streets.”
Israel was fighting a valiant battle against terror, which was part of a global battle. “The way to deal with terror is not by surrendering but by fighting and defeating terror.
As a teenager, he did believe all Arabs should be expelled from Israel. “I thought that everyone was the same and they have to be ousted from here. I was 17 then, but today I am 46, a father of six and an attorney,” he said. “I believe in peace with the Arabs, but a peace of partnership and not of surrender. We have to fight terror, for all of you, in this room.”
In speaking of the threat from Arab terrorists, Ben-Gvir clarified that he did not mean to infer that all Arabs were terrorists. “Many Arabs want to live in peace and coexistence. I am fighting also for them,” he said.
“But I am fighting also for you, for all those in the world that believe in democracy and in human rights... We have returned to our home after so many years of exile and we want to live here,” he said.
“We are fighting for democracy. There are those who want to get rid of it and are fighting against that,” he said, adding that “we are fighting the battle of the free world.”
He warned, “those who want to harm us, also want to harm you. It could be that they want to start with the Jewish nation, but you are next as is everyone who does not agree with them.”