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Bibi Vs Bennett, round….. It is a well known tune, one we have already grown accustomed to, but clashes between PM Netanyahu and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett are back in full swingr. Bennett has been relatively quiet over the course of the last few months, but the dramatic collapse of the right-wing expectations from President Trump has prompted the latest quarrel between these two. Recent reports and statements coming out of DC about the President’s peace plans have exacerbated tensions. Bennett seems to be back to attacking Netanyahu on a daily basis and the PM’s furious reactions are quick to follow.
Here is a short summary of the weekend’s events: On Friday, Trump’s national security adviser, General McMaster, made it clear that the President was expected to express support for Palestinian self-determination. On Saturday, just a few minutes after Shabbat was out, Bennett released a long statement, slamming Netanyahu for leading a “bunker policy” and leaving Israel’s fate to be determined by others. Then he continued his criticism of the PM’s 2009 Bar Ilan speech, claiming it lead to “boycotts, terrorism and a serious demographic threat,” declaring that “now is the time to announce its cancellation.” The Likud, in response, launched a personal attack on Bennett, accusing him of giving in to “leftist pressure” in the Education Ministry. “Those who send Jewish pupils to mosques, who have an extreme leftist responsible for the State and citizenship and do not lift a finger on the incitement in schools in East Jerusalem, should not preach to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who stands firmer and more determined in the face of all international pressures than any other prime minister in recent decades.”
Less than 24 hours later, the spat re-emerged, following Secretary Tillerson’s comments on moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Less than an hour after Tillerson’s interview was aired, Bennett tweeted a series of messages, essentially calling on Netanyahu to clarify that the government expected the administration to transfer the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as the united capital of the Jewish people.
The truth of the matter is, that Netanyahu actually did do exactly that – last Thursday, at a Likud gathering in Jerusalem – but Bennett has been hearing the wave of rumors cited by Israeli right-wing politicians these days, according to which Netanyahu was the one who conveyed the message that Israel is not in favor of the US Embassy move due to security concerns. Netanyahu’s aides, as can be expected, strongly deny these allegations, and following Bennett’s tweets, the Prime Minister’s office strongly rejected Tillerson’s argument that the move could have an impact on Mid East peace.
“Israel’s position has often been expressed to the American administration and to the world. The transfer of the American Embassy to Jerusalem not only will not harm the peace process, but the opposite. It will advance it by correcting an historic injustice and by smashing the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel,” the PMO stated. Simultaneously, the Likud released a special response just for Bennett, claiming he “memorizes the PMs press releases and then quotes them as if they were his demands.”
The never-ending battle between Netanyahu and Bennett over the right wing constituency is expected to escalate, if the President indeed is determined to reach a peace deal which will entail some Israeli concessions. At the moment, Bennett is focusing on Jerusalem, but if the de facto settlement freeze continues after the President’s visit, pressure from the settler base is likely to increase. While both sides are heating their engines, Netanyahu also made a point yesterday that he is not interested in early elections. In the weekly meeting of the coalition leaders, he said that this government will survive until its last day, in November 2019.
Nation-State bill in the fast lane: Netanyahu may say that the next election won’t be for another 30 months, but he is still impatient to pass one of this coalition’s most controversial legislative initiatives: The Jewish Nation-State bill. The bill, as you may remember, declares Israel to be the Nation-State of the Jewish people, and includes sections instituting the national anthem, flag, etc. Some say the bill is discriminatory against non-Jewish citizens of Israel, but Netanyahu shrugged off the detractors twice last week, saying that a law declaring national character does not impinge on any one’s ,individual rights. On Sunday, Netanyahu decided to fast-track the bill proposed by Likud MK and former Shin Bet chief, Avi Dichter. It was supposed to stay on ice for 60 days until the government comes up with its own proposal to merge with Dichter’s, but Bibi nixed that plan and said that Dichter’s bill should continue in the private legislation lane so it can be passed into law as quickly as possible.
More NGO wars: Non-governmental organizations are back on the Knesset’s agenda again, this time thanks to a bill that seeks to give the Knesset Finance Committee greater discretion in deciding who deserves a tax break as a non-profit organization or not. The bill, proposed by Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, seeks to only allow tax breaks for organizations that work for the good of Israeli citizens and Diaspora Jewry. While Smotrich admitted today that the bill is poorly worded and needs to be changed, its goal will remain: to take tax breaks away from NGOs who work for the good of Palestinians. Organizations like Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem are likely to be on his radar. “A Palestinian in Gaza doesn’t pay taxes, so why should an organization get a break for helping them?” Smotrich asked. Also, Smotrich said, “taxpayers shouldn’t fund those who work against the citizens of Israel.” Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On retorted to Smothrich: “We fund you.” Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni, one of the leaders of the Haredi United Torah Judaism list, supports the bill. The last time the committee was asked by the Tax Authority to approve a list of NGOs, Gafni refused to give a tax break to a think tank that is run by Messianic Jews (meaning, Jews who believe Jesus is the messiah), saying that they engage in illegal missionary work.