Naftali Bennett Reaps Reward for Calculated Rise to the Top of Israeli Politics

Naftali Bennett made his name as a far-right Israeli extremist who calls for more Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and tougher measures against Palestinian militants.

Now it is about to claim The highest position in Israel With the support of the extreme left and the only Arab Islamic party in the Jewish state.

As the 49-year-old prepares to ascend to the job – dethroning him Benjamin Netanyahu, his former mentor and five-time prime minister – his incendiary comments are analyzed for hints about what kind of leader he would be.

To those who rose up at his side, and friends who have known him for decades, the ability to fill various roles — hard-right standard-bearer, tech millionaire, and suddenly a united voice in a divided country — says more about Bennett than the incendiary comments that made headlines in his calculated rise to The summit of Israeli politics.

“He always had a very thoughtful public figure. It was not calculated, but carefully calibrated,” said one of the friends, who asked not to be identified to speak freely about the possible next leader of the Jewish state. “They add very convenient contrasts,” said the second. “They add very convenient contrasts,” said the second. Politics is always evolving.”

This development will continue on Sunday, when 61 members of Israel’s 120-seat parliament will be present expected to vote Bennett took on his first prime minister, ending Netanyahu’s 12 years in power.

It will be the beginning of several for the Jewish state: the first religious Jew to wear the kippa and observe the Sabbath to run the country; The first to share power with an Arab party, the Islamic Ra’im. And the first prime minister to control only six seats in the Knesset.

Naftali Bennett (center) lays out coalition details with opposition leader Yair Lapid (left) and Mansour Abbas, head of the List party (right) © VIA REUTERS

This would catapult a man who lived under Netanyahu — first as chief of staff, then as a right-wing anchor in successive coalitions — into his political executioner, and send Israel’s longest-serving prime minister to the opposition benches as the corruption trial gathers. Pushing force.

Bennett, the leader of the small Yamina party, will take his place at the head of a coalition of eight presidents stretching from the marginal left to the far-nationalist right. He will hold the top position for two years as part of the rotating premiership with Yair Lapid, the opposition leader who formed the coalition.

Maintaining its cohesion will force Bennett to evolve further, said Johanan Plesner, head of the Israel Democracy Institute, who has known him since his time in Sayeret Matkal, the elite unit of the IDF.

Thereafter, Sayeret Matkal is usually recruited from among the Ashkenazi Jews of Israel, the descendants of the secular Europeans who founded the state. But Bennett hails from a different group defined as the national religious camp, which blends Orthodox Judaism with state building. The camp, which generally believes in expanding settlement in the occupied West Bank, has been gaining prominence in Israel since the late 1990s.

“Bennett was one of the first to point out the ambition of members of this national religious sector to join one of the leading elite institutions that are making the country,” Plesner said.

He continued, “The fact that he will be the first prime minister from this sector is a continuation of this line of thought – that the national religious camp is now the main dish, not just an accessory, and they are taking on more broadly the responsibilities.”

Born in Israel to American Jewish parents, his successful post-military career culminated in the exit of millions of dollars from a technology company. The military record that is key to his character revolves around the demand for the Israeli government to liberate the armed forces to take tougher steps against Palestinian militants like Hamas.

But his time in the army was overshadowed by the 1996 Qana massacre. He led a unit deep into Lebanon during Operation Grapes of Wrath, where he made an artillery strike near a UN shelter after they came under fire from Hezbollah. At least 100 civilians were killed.

Decades later, he was forced to deny leaked comments from a cabinet meeting that he had “killed a lot of Arabs – no problem with that”.

For the international community, which must deal with an Israeli prime minister who has previously made clear his rejection of a Palestinian state, his brief stint in 2010 as leader of an umbrella group of West Bank settlers is equally interesting.

“There is a lot of fruit still hanging in the settlement enterprise that he can uproot very quickly to satisfy that base,” said a European diplomat who met Bennett to discuss the demolition of the Palestinian-built and EU-backed West Bank. villages. “It’s good TV: send soldiers to tear up tents and houses, then change the channel.”

But Oded Revivi, the mayor of the Efrat settlements and the group’s foreign envoy, recalls that Bennett’s period was quiet and ineffectual.

“I can’t say that during this period there was one specific goal that was accomplished,” he said in an interview. Rafifi expected that Bennett would lead a coalition that includes the left and an Arab party into a “stalemate”.

“They will not be able to promote the two-state solution, and they will not be able to evacuate any of the settlements,” he said.

Analysts and Bennett’s friends said the compromises dictated by the nature of the alliance would also temper Bennett’s hard-right motives.

After two years of political paralysis, passing the budget, agreeing to stimulus spending while keeping public debt – which has risen above 70 per cent of GDP during the coronavirus crisis – is expected to be the first business, they say. The coalition has already informally agreed to focus on the economy and recovery from the pandemic.

“Once the budget is passed, competent civil service nominations are submitted in all areas, the machinery of government is working again and the legislation is passed, it will automatically present the beginning of a fresh new atmosphere,” Plesner said.

“He does not need to resolve the 100-year-old conflict with the Palestinians to be seen as a competent and successful prime minister.”

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