JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly accepted a quasi-apology from Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, putting to rest a potential coalition crisis.
Bennett, who also heads the Jewish Home party, which is part of the ruling government coalition, reportedly said Wednesday that he never intended to insult the prime minister with his criticism over a Netanyahu statement that Jewish settlers could remain in their homes in a Palestinian state.
“There are people who are trying to turn a significant debate about the future of our land and its security into a personal attack that never happened, and if the prime minister was insulted, that was not my intention,” Bennett said at a conference near the Dead Sea, according to Israeli media reports. “I respect Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his leadership under difficult conditions, support him when needed and criticize him when needed, because that is my responsibility.”
Bennett also again criticized Netanyahu for considering allowing Israeli citizens to live under Palestinian sovereignty.
On Thursday, unnamed sources in the Bennett camp told the Israeli daily Maariv that the remarks were not an actual apology, just an expression of regret for offending the prime minister. But the Prime Minister’s Office has accepted the remarks as an apology, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Unnamed sources in the office told The Jerusalem Post that a dismissal letter for Bennett had been prepared in case he did not come through with an apology by a Sunday morning deadline.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s Office called on Bennett to apologize for his remarks critical of the prime minister’s plan to allow settlers to remain in areas of the West Bank that will become part of a Palestinian state, saying there will be a “price to pay” and that a “government without Bennett will continue to work to secure Israel just as it did in the previous government.”
The rift over Netanyahu’s statement that no settlements will be dismantled and the clarification by the Prime Minister’s Office that Netanyahu meant West Bank settlers could choose to live as citizens in a Palestinian state had threatened the makeup of the government coalition.