Speaking to Arutz Sheva in an exclusive interview on Wednesday, Education Minister and Jewish Home chief Naftali Bennett discussed a wide range of issues, touching upon the replacement of Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon with Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman, his recent feud with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and the future of his party’s partnership with the Tekumah faction led by Uri Ariel.
Over the past week, Bennett blasted the Prime Minister and incoming Defense Minister for statements signaling their support of the “Arab Initiative”, a plan proposed by Saudi Arabia for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Prior to Liberman’s inclusion in the government, Bennett sparred with Netanyahu over reforms for the security cabinet, demanding that an army official be assigned to the cabinet to keep members informed of important developments.
"The government won't swing to the left on my watch"
Despite his recent clashes with the Prime Minister, however, Bennett denied charges he was intentionally creating friction within the coalition.
“I’m in favor of unity within the coalition,” said Bennett, “but on the other hand I’m not here to enable a government that is supposedly ‘very right-wing’ to suddenly break hard to the left and adopt the Arab proposal, which includes a return to the 1967 borders.”
Bennett also rejected claims that praise for the Arab Initiative did not suggest support of Palestinian statehood.
“When someone says there are good elements in the Arab Initiative, there are only three things there – refugees, the division of Jerusalem, and a return to the 1967 borders. Today, I am the only leader in Israel who completely opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state and surrender of the Land of Israel to the Arabs. We have a duty – beyond mathematics [referring to his position as Education Minister], Judaism, and the courts [a reference to the Justice Ministry, also held by the party] – in relation to all of which we are doing great things – not to be silent.”
“Whenever we held back, bad things happened. Recall the Hevron agreement, the Disengagement, and the Bar Ilan [policy] speech. All of these happened. I don’t have the right to disgrace the Land of Israel. We have a national responsibility to express what most of the nation feels.”
The Education Minister emphasized that he respects the Prime Minister and wishes to maintain the government’s stability and is acting out of a desire to “prevent terrible mistakes, [including some] made by the present leadership.”
"National religious are acting like battered wives"
Bennett said critics within the national religious public who slammed his recent comments regarding the Prime Minister’s praise of the Arab Initiative were suffering from “battered-wife syndrome”.
“I’m not the one who made headlines over [the creation of] a Palestinian state and adoption of parts of the Arab Initiative. I have no problems with the government, so long as it sticks to the coalition agreements.”
“I don’t have the privilege to remain silent; I’m obliged to stand up like a steel wall against the kinds of historic mistakes that have been made [before], including Oslo, the Hevron [Agreement], the Bar Ilan [speech], and the Disengagement.”
Despite his differences with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Bennett claims he was actively involved in bringing Yisrael Beytenu into the coalition, brushing off suggestions he had sought the Defense Ministry for himself.
“I’m very happy with my work as Education Minister; we’ve made a lot of changes that for years were not implemented, including [teaching] Judaism and Zionism, shrinking class sizes, adding assistant kindergarten teachers, [reforms in] the security cabinet, and in [teaching] mathematics. I worked to have Liberman brought into the coalition. It’s no secret that I was one of the initiators of the effort [to bring him in].”
Jewish Home and Tekuma – On the rocks?
Bennett also discussed ongoing efforts to unify the Jewish Home and Tekumah factions – separate parties who have run on joint lists in the past two elections. Despite repeated efforts to reach an accommodation, attempts to unite the two have failed, and, suggests Bennett, the two seem to be moving farther apart.
“It is no secret that I’ve tried numerous times to unite [the factions], despite heavy pressure not to. But unity is not just a political arrangement, it’s a matter of behavior. You have to see daily conduct [between the factions] that is healthy and unifying; only then can you join together. Otherwise it’s not relevant.”
And how are relations between the two factions?
“It depends,” replied Bennett. “In recent days, I’m sad to say, there has not always been behavior [between the factions] that would empower [joint] struggles for [a shared] ideology, but we’ll see. There’s still a long way to go. I’m looking for unity and integration because at the end of the day we need to be as unified as possible.”