(March 21, 2021 / Israel Hayom) Naftali Bennett made a huge bet at the start of Israel’s latest election campaign: Rather than take sides in the anti- vs. pro-Netanyahu battle, he decided to adopt a posture of indifference.
Bennett wholeheartedly believes that Netanyahu has to go, but has not put that goal at the top of his agenda. “The public will decide,” he told Israel Hayom. His hope is that this message will appeal to everyone on the right who on the one hand do not consider themselves anti-Netanyahu but on the other hand don’t admire him. This constituency comprises mostly religious voters.
A: [With] this level of chaos, there is no way of knowing. There are so many options in this political Sudoku that there is just no way of knowing. But I know what the solution to the chaos is, and that is to vote for a party that is not wedded to the ideology of “anyone-but-Netanyahu” or “only Netanyahu.” This will give me space to force through a right-wing government. This will be a right-wing government that will include a centrist entity that I have no way of knowing [the size of]. But according to all polls, the right will have 80 seats in the Knesset, and the left only 30, with the Arabs getting the remaining 10. So as soon as I make sure a stable right-wing government is formed, my first decision would be to pass my economic plan to make Israel [into] another Singapore.
Q: So, assuming Netanyahu doesn’t have 61 seats in the Knesset, you would join Sa’ar and Lapid and form a government, without Likud?
A: No, no. Because I won’t be bound to the “anyone-but-Netanyahu” bloc, only to what is good for Israel. And there are many additional options. Of course, who becomes prime minister is important but the question is whether a government will be sworn in at all. I would like to remind you that Netanyahu has failed to form a [right-wing] government three times [following the past three elections], so anyone who votes for him or [Yisrael Beiteinu head] Avigdor Lieberman or the latest flash in the pan, called New Hope, will be voting for more gridlock. We are not the problem, we are the solution. Because there are only two parties that can hold the balance of power: Yamina and [Arab party] Ra’am. A government with Ra’am and its leader Mansour Abbas would not be able to secure Israel or promote the interests of the settlements, because it would be at his mercy.
Q: So this means that if you can help Netanyahu get a majority you would join him in order to prevent another early election?
A: Let me say this. The most crucial thing we [need to] do is to prevent another march to the polls by establishing a stable and functioning government. Do we need change? Yes, we need change. But only the public will decide on its nature.
Q: Netanyahu said that you will make Lapid prime minister because neither of you can form a government without the other.
A: I heard this nonsense. Let me make it as clear as possible: I am a man of the right, and of the Land of Israel. I will never create a government led by the left, including by Yair Lapid, who is currently the leader of the left. Only Netanyahu has done so—by partnering with Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak and Benny Gantz [all former or current leaders of center-left parties – A.K.]. I will form a right-wing government.
Q: That means we’re back to square one. You won’t make Lapid prime minister, but you will cooperate with him.
A: I know what my guiding principles are. A day after the election, I plan to become the mature adult in the room. Until the election, everyone shouts and fights, and that’s fine. But once the polls close, we have to form a government whose principles are right-wing, and that … will be responsible and functioning and lower taxes and cut the public sector.
Q: If Lapid, and maybe with Labor leader Meirav Michaeli, are in such a government, how can it reform the courts and advance the legislation you want to introduce, that would allow the Knesset to override court decisions?
A: Reforms in the justice system are important on a national level. There are two things that need to be done: separating the attorney general from the state prosecution, and the second is changing the way justices are appointed. So basically two things: the High Court of Justice and the State Attorney’s Office.
Q: You won’t be able to do so with Lapid.
A: Over the past 12 years, Netanyahu has not passed a single reform in the judiciary, because he has always pursued the left’s ideology. I will pursue the right’s ideology. It all depends on what hand I am dealt on election day, and this depends on the public. I would like to take this opportunity to implore the public not to go into the polling booth with despair. We can set up a government that cares about the public and works to improve its lives. We can have a government that is good, as I demonstrated during the final year I was in it when everyone else was busy with infighting.
Q: Many believe you were right but Netanyahu has focused entirely on the vaccinations that have managed to curtail the spread of the disease, unlike what happened in other countries.
(Bennett has been one of the most vociferous critics of Netanyahu’s policies during the coronavirus crisis, saying he has consistently mishandled the pandemic. He even wrote a book about it – A.K.)
A: When you look at the bottom line, Netanyahu failed. There are more than 6,000 dead, twice as much as those killed during the Yom Kippur War. We are now ranked among the highest in terms of fatalities per capita and in morbidity relative to population. It’s also wrong to say that we have been the first to emerge out of the pandemic: New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan and other nations have done so before us. They had only dozens of fatalities; they didn’t have massive mishaps like we had at the Ben-Gurion International Airport [which has apparently led to a spike in infections due to incoming passengers – A.K.]. They didn’t have the infighting between the various ministries, so with all due respect, the vaccines are like a supplement. They sure help, but you know when citations of merit are handed out? After something had gone wrong.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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