How Naftali Bennett, Head of a Small Right-Wing Party in Israel, Rose to the Top

How Naftali Bennett, Head of a Small Right-Wing Party in Israel, Rose to the Top
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How Naftali Bennett, Head of a Small Right-Wing Party in Israel, Rose to the Top

How Naftali Bennett, Head of a Small Right-Wing Party in Israel, Rose to the Top

JERUSALEM — The morning after Donald J. Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, Naftali Bennett, the energetic chief of a comparatively small, Israeli pro-settlement social gathering, exulted earlier than an viewers of overseas reporters in Jerusalem, “The period of a Palestinian state is over!”

Now, Mr. Bennett, 49, a former high-tech entrepreneur who insists that there must not ever be a full-fledged Palestinian state and that Israel ought to annex a lot of the occupied West Financial institution, is poised to turn into Israel’s subsequent prime minister, changing Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Bennett, a former ally of Mr. Netanyahu usually described as extra proper wing than the prime minister, is the independently rich son of American immigrants. He first entered the Israeli Parliament eight years in the past and is comparatively unknown and inexperienced on the worldwide stage, leaving a lot of the world — not to point out many Israelis — questioning what form of chief he may be.

Shifting between seemingly contradictory alliances, he has been known as a right-wing extremist, a pragmatist and an opportunist.

However in a measure of his skills, he has now pulled off a feat that’s extraordinary even by the perplexing requirements of Israeli politics: He has maneuvered himself into the high workplace despite the fact that his social gathering, Yamina, received simply seven of the 120 seats in the Parliament.

A canny and impressive beneficiary of Israel’s extended political morass, Mr. Bennett leveraged his modest however pivotal electoral weight after the inconclusive March election, Israel’s fourth in two years. He entered coalition talks as a kingmaker, and emerged as the one carrying the crown.

In a profession full of paradoxes, Mr. Bennett, as soon as a high aide to Mr. Netanyahu, 71, performed a essential position in toppling his former boss, Israel’s longest-serving chief. As a end result, Mr. Netanyahu was introduced down — for now, not less than — not solely by his longtime rivals on the heart and left of the political spectrum but in addition by somebody thought of much more hard-line.

Mr. Bennett has lengthy championed West Financial institution settlers and as soon as led the council representing them, however he has by no means been a settler, himself, and lives in Ra’anana, an prosperous city in central Israel, together with his spouse and 4 kids. He’s religiously observant — he can be the first prime minister to put on a kipa — however he’ll head a governing coalition that’s largely secular.

He’s greatest identified for views on settlements, annexation and Palestinian statehood that many on Israel’s left and heart — not to point out a lot of the world — take into account not simply improper however harmful. But his coalition spans Israel’s fractious political spectrum from left to proper, and depends on the assist of a small Arab, Islamist social gathering.

That coalition proposes to paper over its variations on Israeli-Palestinian relations by specializing in home issues.

Mr. Bennett has defined his motives for teaming up with such ideological opposites as an act of final resort to finish the political deadlock that has paralyzed Israel.

“The political disaster in Israel is unprecedented on a world degree,” he mentioned in a televised speech on Sunday. “We might find yourself with fifth, sixth, even tenth elections, dismantling the partitions of the nation, brick by brick, till our home falls in on us. Or we are able to cease the insanity and take accountability.”

Now Mr. Bennett faces the biggest problem of his political profession, making an attempt to maintain that unlikely coalition collectively, to vault from being a second-tier determine to a nationwide chief, and to keep relations with Israel’s most essential ally, the United States. President Biden has been cooler towards Mr. Netanyahu than Mr. Trump was.

“There might be, I believe, a collective sigh of aid inside the Biden administration that they’ve new, younger Israeli blood to take care of,” mentioned Martin S. Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and a former particular envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Mr. Bennett might be pressured by the settler proper to ship for them, Mr. Indyk mentioned, however it seems that “he has already accepted that he received’t have the opportunity to pursue that agenda.”

He campaigned as the right-wing different to Mr. Netanyahu, who has held energy for 12 years consecutively and 15 years general, and is now standing trial on corruption prices. They’ve usually differed extra in tone than substance, as Mr. Bennett prevented the inflammatory language and long-running authorized drama of his predecessor.

Aida Touma-Sliman, a lawmaker from the Joint Record of predominantly Arab events, wrote on Twitter that Mr. Bennett would lead “a harmful right-wing authorities,” one that will “take away Netanyahu and protect his path.”

After Mr. Bennett described Mr. Netanyahu on Sunday as a divisive and polarizing drive, Mr. Netanyahu accused his former aide of utilizing “the identical hole slogans about hate and division,” and of “committing the fraud of the century.”

Individuals who know him describe Mr. Bennett as likable and tolerant behind closed doorways, a pragmatist at coronary heart, although how that personal particular person would translate to governing stays to be seen.

“Individuals assume he’s a fanatic. He’s not,” mentioned Ayelet Frish, an Israeli political advisor. She mentioned Mr. Bennett as soon as instructed her that he had grown up in a dwelling of “Woodstock mother and father,” surrounded by principally secular tradition, and famous his time in the largely secular high-tech enterprise world.

Orit Galili-Zucker, a former strategic communications adviser to Mr. Netanyahu, mentioned Mr. Bennett aimed “to current another to Netanyahu’s poisonous discourse.”

In Mr. Bennett’s first marketing campaign, in 2013, Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud social gathering branded him as “a harmful, messianic right-winger,” she mentioned. Now Likud was calling him a “harmful leftist,” she famous, for becoming a member of forces with the opposition chief Yair Lapid to unseat Mr. Netanyahu.

Now Likud and its staunch ultra-Orthodox allies might be heading into the opposition.

Below the new coalition’s authorities, Mr. Bennett will function prime minister for the first half of a four-year time period, to be adopted by the secular, centrist Mr. Lapid. By conceding the first flip in the rotation, Mr. Lapid smoothed the means for different right-wing politicians to be a part of the anti-Netanyahu alliance.

Mr. Bennett represents a new technology in Israeli politics and can be the second-youngest prime minister in the nation’s historical past; solely Mr. Netanyahu, when he first got here into the workplace a technology in the past, was youthful.

Born in Israel, Mr. Bennett spent elements of his childhood residing in the United States and Canada. He served in the identical Israeli Military commando unit Mr. Netanyahu had. He then moved to New York and based a software program firm that he later bought for $145 million, and served as chief govt of one other firm.

He has had a fraught relationship with Mr. Netanyahu since a stint as his chief of employees ended in acrimony in 2008. A pointy critic of some of Mr. Netanyahu’s insurance policies, he however sat in a number of Netanyahu-led governments as a minister, in addition to in the opposition. In late 2019, Mr. Netanyahu appointed him as protection minister to maintain Mr. Bennett on his facet at a time of political turmoil, and he served in that position for about six months.

Over the previous decade, Mr. Bennett and his senior associate in Yamina, Ayelet Shaked, have run for workplace in an array of right-wing, pro-settlement events with a dizzying collection of title adjustments and allies. In 2013, after they had been a pair of political newcomers, he fashioned what was seen as a shocking alliance with Mr. Lapid.

Mr. Bennett has usually punched above his weight on safety points. On the eve of the 2014 Gaza warfare, he presciently raised the menace arising from tunnels dug by Hamas beneath the Gaza-Israel border and pressed for a plan of motion to neutralize them.

Later that 12 months, he wrote an uncompromising op-ed in The New York Instances explaining his view that Israel couldn’t enable the creation of a Palestinian state. He has proposed granting the Palestinians “a kind of autonomy on steroids” in about 40 % of the West Financial institution, and progressively making use of Israeli sovereignty in the relaxation of the territory — a transfer a lot of the world would take into account unlawful.

The following 12 months he wrote one other op-ed forcefully condemning Jewish extremists who had stabbed members at a homosexual delight parade in Jerusalem and burned three members of a Palestinian household to demise in a West Financial institution village, denouncing the perpetrators as “terrorists.”

At instances, Mr. Bennett and Ms. Shaked joined forces with extra radical political factions in the spiritual Zionist camp who’re closely influenced by their rabbis. Operating as the New Proper social gathering in the April 2019 election, with out their extra excessive companions, they failed to acquire sufficient votes to enter Parliament.

In the run-up to this 12 months’s election, the pair tried to broaden their attraction to extra mainstream Israelis, and had extra success, gathering some assist from disaffected former Netanyahu voters. Mr. Bennett has been pushing a program for financial reform that he calls his “Singapore Plan,” helps curbing the powers of the judiciary and has criticized the current authorities’s dealing with of the pandemic.

After the election, neither the pro-Netanyahu bloc of events nor the anti-Netanyahu group might type a parliamentary majority with out his social gathering. Either side courted him, providing him a probability to function prime minister in a rotation settlement. Mr. Bennett made it clear he would have most well-liked to be a part of a right-wing authorities, however Mr. Netanyahu proved unable to type one.

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