JERUSALEM, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday criticisms he made of the prime minister's Palestinian policy were not intended as an insult.
Bennett released his statement amid reports that Binyamin Netanyahu had demanded an apology, the Jerusalem Post reported. He reportedly threatened to remove Bennett from the Cabinet.
"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. "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."
But Bennett, head of the Jewish Home or Bayit Yehudi party continued to criticize Netanyahu for his suggestion that Israeli settlers living on the West Bank could be given a choice between return to Israel or joining a Palestinian state if their homes end up on the other side of a negotiated border.
"Imposing Palestinian sovereignty on Israeli citizens is dangerous, and it was my responsibility to take this idea off the agenda immediately," Bennett said.
The Times of Israel, citing sources in the prime minister's office, said Bennett has been ordered to apologize. The sources said Bennett has been warned he could be fired if he refuses.
Bennett suggested Tuesday in a speech at a National Securities Studies conference in Tel Aviv Netanyahu plans to divide land and cede the West Bank to the Palestinians.
"Our forefathers and our descendants will not forgive an Israeli leader who gives up our country and divides our capital," Bennett said.
Bennett also said Netanyahu fears international boycotts and his very wish to escape them is what could bring them on.
"This is no way to handle negotiations, running frightened between the capitals of the world," he said.