Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could find himself as the leader of the most right-wing party in his governing coalition, due to an ongoing dispute with his defense minister, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, Bennett indicated on Wednesday.
The Netanyahu-Bennett fight, which began more than a decade ago when Bennett was Netanyahu’s chief of staff, has intensified during the crisis over the coronavirus.
Bennett has been the most vocal critic of Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis, casting the only vote against his economic plan, compiling his own extensive plan, and pleading unsuccessfully for his Defense Ministry to take control of the tests of the virus.
In a stormy cabinet meeting that was leaked to the press, Netanyahu accused Bennett of not doing enough to ensure the IDF followed Health Ministry guidelines, and Bennett said Netanyahu was lying about the number of tests that had been administered.
Afterward, Netanyahu’s associates accused Bennett of “using the conflict as a chance to score points with the public.”
On Wednesday, Bennett criticized Netanyahu’s decision to give hotel rooms for two weeks to all travelers arriving in Israel, and said he heard about it from the press, even though his ministry is in charge of the hotels for those who contracted the virus. The Prime Minister’s Office denied that he was not told before the media.
When asked about the chances of him remaining outside the government, at a press conference on Facebook on Wednesday, Bennett said he was not born a minister and has no problem being a regular MK.
“I respect the prime minister, but there are sometimes disagreements between us,” he said, answering a question from The Jerusalem Post about their dispute. “It is no secret that for a month I have been saying test, test, test. I don’t care about arguing. I care about healing the economy without harming the health of our citizens.”
Bennett has been conducting such press conferences daily. While his office said he wants to perform a service to the public that no one else is doing, Likud officials said he is just trying to cover himself for whoever probes Israel’s handling of the corona crisis, as he did when he warned of tunnels from Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.
Yamina has not officially been made an offer by the Likud. But Likud officials have made clear that the party’s demand of four
portfolios, including a top ministry for Bennett, for six MKs was a nonstarter.
“I am not dealing with portfolios,” Bennett said.
“I am dealing with testing swabs.”
Likud officials said the most likely offer to Yamina would be the Education Ministry for Rafi Peretz, Strategic Affairs Ministry for Bennett, and a deputy religious affairs minister role for Bezalel Smotrich. If no post is offered to Ayelet Shaked, it is thought that she may take a break from politics.
But Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar said Yamina is in fact wanted in the coalition.
“The Likud is doing its best to form a government,” he said. “Right now the problem is unfortunately we don’t have enough ministries to offer our right-wing partners. We have only 15, maybe maximum 17.
We hope Blue and White helps us solve this problem by giving us more ministries to offer to our partners. We want Yamina and all the right-wing parties inside.
This is our goal, and I hope we will accomplish it.”