By Emmet Lyons and Claire Calzonetti, CNN
Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told CNN that security steps taken by the Israeli government in Gaza and Jerusalem were not politically motivated.
“All of my security decisions regarding actions in Temple Mount or with Gaza are not political. I take the decisions on the merit, Bennett told CNN Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview Wednesday. “What’s right for the security and what’s right to do, I’m not going to change that. I’m not going to change my defense-related decisions because of political considerations,” he said.
Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, is the site of the Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. It is also where the first and second temples stood and is regarded as the holiest place in Judaism.
Israel’s fragile coalition government was dealt a major blow earlier this month when coalition chairwoman Idit Silman resigned, depriving the government of its majority.
The current coalition government was formed on June 13, 2021, after four elections were held in under two years. It comprises eight parties, spanning the spectrum of ideologies, from the left-wing Meretz party, to New Hope and Yamina on the right. For the first time ever, it includes an Arab party, the United Arab List.
Bennett told Amanpour that he expects “all of the members of the coalition to step up to the moment.
“We knew it was going to be hard. We knew that when you put secular and religious together, right and left, Jews and Arabs together, there would be bumps in the road but that’s the challenge, and I think there is a unique opportunity for the first time ever in Israel where there’s an Arab leader Mansour Abbas, who is divorcing the nationalistic elements from simply taking care of the Israeli Arabs, and I hope he steps up to the plate and his people.”
When asked whether he thinks his government can survive, Bennett said “it’s vital for Israel to keep the stability and the success of this government” and that he was “convinced that the members of this government and the Israeli public, for that matter, want it to succeed, which is why I think it will succeed.”
Recent violence in Jerusalem’s Old City has placed new strains on Israel’s coalition.
On Monday, Bennett put the blame firmly on Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, accusing it of inciting Palestinians.
Videos on social media showed Palestinians throwing rocks at buses often used by Jews to visit the holy sites and setting off firecrackers. Other videos captured images of Israeli soldiers carrying out arrests inside the Aqsa mosque building and using batons to beat people in the compound.
The PM was pressed by Amanpour on whether he thinks the sight of Israeli soldiers in the mosque would cause tension.
He blamed the violence on “300 Palestinian rioters” who entered the “mosque with explosives, with stones. They began desecrating their own mosque, burning, throwing stones and preventing about 80,000 decent Muslims from going to pray. My responsibility as a prime minister of Israel is to provide freedom of prayer to everyone in Jerusalem, including Muslims which is why I had to send in policemen to remove the rioters and it worked.”
“Eighty thousand Muslims went on later to pray peacefully,” he said.
Amanpour pressed the Prime Minister on whether his government was seriously considering a peace process and bringing an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Bennett pushed back and said he was “not going to take experiments on the security of the Israelis.”
“We handed Gaza over to the Palestinians. We pulled back to the ’67 lines. We pulled out and expelled the Jews living in Gaza and what we got in return is hell. Tens of thousands of rockets shot at us. I’m not in the business of playing experiments with the Israeli people. What I will do and I am doing is people to people peace, bottom up, getting more jobs for Palestinians and better paid jobs, and I have to say Palestinians are experiencing unprecedented prosperity.”
Amnesty International has said that the Israeli government has maintained an “illegal blockade on the Gaza Strip” that has exacerbated a “humanitarian crisis.”
Speaking to CNN, Bennett pointed to shootings in “Beersheba, Hadera, in Tel Aviv center, where Arab Muslim terrorists, some of them affiliated with ISIS, just came with rifles and started shooting people on the street” as evidence that the conflict is being perpetuated from one side.
“I object to the notion of both sides. No, when they don’t attack us, we have no issues with them,” he said. “When they do attack us I have to fight back and hit them at their terror bases and that’s what any leader would do and that’s what I’m doing.”
Four attacks on civilians in Israel, including three by Palestinian gunmen, have killed 14 people. A similar number of Palestinians have died in incidents in the occupied West Bank, shot dead by Israeli soldiers in clashes during anti-terrorism operations, for allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails, and for running toward a checkpoint.
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