How Naftali Bennett, Head of a Small Proper-Wing Celebration in Israel, Rose to the Prime

2021-06-04 19:14:52

JERUSALEM — The morning after Donald J. Trump’s victory within the 2016 presidential election, Naftali Bennett, the energetic chief of a comparatively small, Israeli pro-settlement celebration, 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 change 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 — to not point out many Israelis — questioning what sort of chief he could be.

Shifting between seemingly contradictory alliances, he has been referred to 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 highest workplace regardless that his celebration, Yamina, gained simply seven of the 120 seats within 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 because the one carrying the crown.

In a profession filled with paradoxes, Mr. Bennett, as soon as a prime aide to Mr. Netanyahu, 71, performed an important function in toppling his former boss, Israel’s longest-serving chief. Consequently, Mr. Netanyahu was introduced down — for now, at the least — not solely by his longtime rivals on the middle 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, along with his spouse and 4 kids. He’s religiously observant — he could be the primary prime minister to put on a kipa — however he’ll head a governing coalition that’s largely secular.

He’s greatest recognized for views on settlements, annexation and Palestinian statehood that many on Israel’s left and middle — to not point out a lot of the world — think about not simply incorrect however harmful. But his coalition spans Israel’s fractious political spectrum from left to proper, and depends on the help of a small Arab, Islamist celebration.

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 will cease the insanity and take accountability.”

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

“There can be, I feel, a collective sigh of reduction 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 can be pressured by the settler proper to ship for them, Mr. Indyk mentioned, however it seems that “he has already accepted that he gained’t have the ability to pursue that agenda.”

He campaigned because 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 expenses. 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 might “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 non-public individual would translate to governing stays to be seen.

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

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

In Mr. Bennett’s first marketing campaign, in 2013, Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud celebration 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 can be heading into the opposition.

Beneath the brand new coalition’s authorities, Mr. Bennett will function prime minister for the primary a part of a four-year time period, to be adopted by the secular, centrist Mr. Lapid. By conceding the primary flip within the rotation, Mr. Lapid smoothed the best way for different right-wing politicians to affix the anti-Netanyahu alliance.

Mr. Bennett represents a brand new technology in Israeli politics and could be the second-youngest prime minister within 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 components of his childhood dwelling in america 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 government of one other firm.

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

Over the previous decade, Mr. Bennett and his senior accomplice in Yamina, Ayelet Shaked, have run for workplace in an array of right-wing, pro-settlement events with a dizzying collection of identify 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 battle, he presciently raised the risk arising from tunnels dug by Hamas beneath the Gaza-Israel border and pressed for a plan of motion to neutralize them.

Later that yr, 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 p.c of the West Financial institution, and steadily making use of Israeli sovereignty in the remainder of the territory — a transfer a lot of the world would think about unlawful.

The following yr he wrote one other op-ed forcefully condemning Jewish extremists who had stabbed individuals at a homosexual satisfaction parade in Jerusalem and burned three members of a Palestinian household to loss of life 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 within the spiritual Zionist camp who’re closely influenced by their rabbis. Operating because the New Proper celebration within the April 2019 election, with out their extra excessive companions, they failed to achieve sufficient votes to enter Parliament.

Within the run-up to this yr’s election, the pair tried to broaden their enchantment to extra mainstream Israelis, and had extra success, gathering some help 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 kind a parliamentary majority with out his celebration. Each side courted him, providing him an opportunity to function prime minister in a rotation settlement. Mr. Bennett made it clear he would have most popular to affix a right-wing authorities, however Mr. Netanyahu proved unable to kind one.

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