Does Bennett victory over Netanyahu mean he’s no longer in his pocket?
Bennett did not blink. He kept refusing Netanyahu until the prime minister gave into him.
By GIL HOFFMAN
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got defeated by a party leader on Wednesday.But it was not Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, his main opponent in the March 2 election.The leader who emerged victorious over Netanyahu was the head of the newly reconstituted Yamina party, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett.Netanyahu pushed Bennett for days to go against his conscience and allow the leader of the far Right Otzma Yehudit party, Itamar Ben-Gvir, to run with him, in order to ensure there would be no right-wing party that would not cross the electoral threshold and would waste votes. Netanyahu’s office even leaked that the prime minister was considering firing Bennett from his post as defense minister.But Bennett did not blink. He kept refusing Netanyahu until the prime minister gave into him.And Netanyahu did not just give in to Bennett about not running with Ben-Gvir. Bennett got Netanyahu to shift his pressure to Bayit Yehudi leader Rafi Peretz to join Yamina, abandon his own deal with Ben-Gvir and receive only one realistic slot on the list for Bayit Yehudi.To get Peretz to back off, Netanyahu showed him polls indicating that Bayit Yehudi would not cross the electoral threshold running alone with Ben-Gvir. He later promised Peretz to appoint him education minister if he forms the next government.AdvertisementNetanyahu essentially helped Bennett get his revenge against his former party and go from being unemployed seven months ago and fourth on the Yamina list four months ago to number one on a united Yamina list with all his rivals behind him and walking wounded. Bennett also got his revenge against religious-Zionist rabbis who no longer control him.Bennett might have even positioned himself to be a candidate for prime minister whenever the post-Netanyahu era begins, especially if the candidate chosen by Likud to succeed Netanyahu as party leader ends up being unimpressive. And it all happened in the nick of time. The head of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court judge Neal Hendel, did not even let Yamina officials complete writing their list of candidates, forcing them to stop as the details of the party’s 17th candidate were being written.The success of Bennett’s chief of staff, Tal Gan-Zvi, in getting the head of the Bayit Yehudi central committee, former MK Idit Silman, to shift to Bennett’s New Right also helped Bennett finish off Peretz and cement his leadership.Bennett’s associates said he had proven once and for all that he is no longer in Netanyahu’s pocket.What does that mean for the future? Does it mean that Bennett could help Gantz form a government after the March 2 election?Bennett would say no, because he cannot betray his right-wing constituency and he has figures further to the Right on his list. He will remain a loyal member of Netanyahu and his political bloc.But after the election, if Gantz and his bloc win a clear victory and public sentiment is strongly against a fourth election and keeping the Defense portfolio is offered, it cannot be ruled out that Bennett will think differently.After all, his threat behind the scenes to join Gantz after the September election was believable enough for Netanyahu to give him the Defense portfolio. Now that Bennett is more independent, it is more possible than ever that Bennett could deal his former boss the blow that could end his political career.
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