Benjamin Netanyahu’s two biggest admirers just ganged up on him. What’s going on?

Sheldon Adelson’s newspaper is backing Naftali Bennett’s latest legislative push against the PM


Benjamin Netanyahu slapped down an attempt this week by Education Minister and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett to change the laws tying the hands of future Israeli governments in negotiations with the Palestinians.

Mr Bennett wants to change the rule that currently requires a special majority of 80 Knesset members for any Israeli withdrawals from “sovereign territory”. This means East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, since Israel has not annexed the West Bank.

The Jewish Home leader is seeking to delete a clause in the law which says that if only a regular majority of 61 MKs support the withdrawal, a referendum can be called. With the new law, the only way to authorise a withdrawal would be with 80 MKs.

On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu used his veto to take Mr Bennett’s proposal off the agenda.

This was followed by an exchange of angry statements between Likud and Jewish Home. Jewish Home accused the prime minister of “preferring narrow political consideration over keeping Jerusalem whole”. Likud accused the Jewish Home ministers “of running a kindergarten” and noted that Mr Netanyahu himself had already supported a similar law in 2007 but that “according to the coalition agreements, any amendment to a basic law needs the agreement of all coalition partners”.

After things calmed down, it was agreed that Mr Bennett and Likud’s Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin would work on a joint proposal to be brought to cabinet.

An intriguing side-story to the Netanyahu-Bennett fracas has been its coverage in Yisrael Hayom, the daily free-sheet owned by American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miri. Until very recently, the tabloid dedicated almost limitless positive coverage to Mr Netanyahu, while his challengers, including Mr Bennett, were often written about dismissively. Over the last few weeks, the Education Minister’s initiative has been covered prominently and positively and his clash with the Prime Minister was reported even-handedly.

This has come at the same time as reports of a “cooling” between Mr Netanyahu and the Adelson couple.

Two weeks ago, they were interviewed by police for the second time in what has become known as “File 2000” — the investigation into dealings between Mr Netanyahu and the publisher-owner of Yedioth Ahronot newspaper, Arnon Mozes.

Police believe that the talks between the two men — which, according to transcripts leaked to the Israeli media, included promises by Mr Mozes to deliver more favourable coverage of Mr Netanyahu and an offer by the Israeli Prime Minister to intercede with Mr Adelson to scale down competitor Yisrael Hayom’s operations — could constitute bribery.

The implications could be damaging for Mr Adelson as well, both in Israel and the US, if it was found that the millions he poured into Yisrael Hayom were illegal political funding for Mr Netanyahu, rather than a straight business investment.

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