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A tale of two handshakes: Bibi vs. Bennett

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A tale of two handshakes: Bibi vs. Bennett

In September 2019, two days after a second election failed to break the political deadlock, then-president Reuven Rivlin got rivals Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to shake hands before the cameras at the third annual memorial event for former president and prime minister Shimon Peres.

In his speech at the event, Netanyahu hinted for the first time that he would be ready to rotate with Gantz as prime minister.

Early Newspaper

“[Peres] and Shamir agreed to cooperate,” Netanyahu said in his address.

Two years later, Netanyahu raised eyebrows by shaking hands with his successor, Naftali Bennett, at Peres’s fifth memorial.

But while the first handshake was remembered as the catalyst of the government that initially ended the deadlock, there are no such expectations from Peres memorial handshake number two.

Several hours later, Bennett shook the hand of Netanyahu’s number two in Likud, Yuli Edelstein, in the Knesset plenum, and there was no handshake with Netanyahu, who sits next to Edelstein and spoke immediately after Bennett.

Then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with then minister of Defense and leader of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett, March 4, 2020.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)Then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with then minister of Defense and leader of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett, March 4, 2020. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Bennett and Netanyahu have not held the monthly meetings for security briefings that they are required to hold as prime minister and opposition leader. The closest thing to private meetings they have had are those that have taken place when a new Knesset session begins, together with the president and Knesset speaker.

A participant in both meetings said the first meeting was “scary” and the two prime ministers ignored each other completely, while in the second they behaved cordially and professionally. But Netanyahu still did not refer to Bennett as prime minister in his Knesset speech when he accused Bennett of being controlled by Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas and Abbas responded by reminding Netanyahu that when he wooed Arab voters he called himself Abu-Yair.  

Ignoring Bennett’s premiership seems to be working for Netanyahu. A Channel 13 poll broadcast late Monday night found that if elections were to be held now, Netanyahu’s Likud would win 34 seats, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid 22 and Bennett’s Yamina Party only seven.

The poll found that 59% of Israelis are unsatisfied with Bennett’s performance as prime minister and just 34% are satisfied.

Does that mean that Bennett’s government is in trouble?

No, the opposite. The stronger Netanyahu is, the stronger the glue holding the current government together.

Chances are, at the next Peres memorial, regardless of whether Bennett and Netanyahu shake hands, their political status will remain the same.

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A tale of two handshakes: Bibi vs. Bennett