Few Israelis wanted a leader to the right of Netanyahu. Naftali Bennett is about to overthrow his former boss anyway.


Two years later, he is set to become the country’s next prime minister.

Former chief of staff to then opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Bennett could now overthrow his former boss, ending Netanyahu’s career as the country’s longest-serving prime minister.
Bennett signed a landmark coalition deal with centrist leader Yair Lapid that brought together a wide range of political parties in a coalition of change to oust Netanyahu, including a far-left party and even for the first time in the history of Israel, an Arab. Israeli party. If Israel’s parliament approves the deal in the coming days, Bennett will hold the top post for the first two years of a four-year term, followed by Lapid.

He will sit alongside politicians with ideologies completely opposed to his own.

Bennett lies to Netanyahu’s own right in several crucial areas. He would bring to power a history of inflammatory remarks on the Palestinians and a well-documented ambition to annex part of the occupied West Bank.

Few Israelis voted for Bennett’s Yamina party in the March election, winning just 7 seats to Netanyahu’s 30.

It remains to be seen how much of his Bennett agenda can achieve while being forced into an awkwardly assembled coalition. But if the deal goes through, the Yamina leader – for so long a secondary figure in Israel’s high-stakes political spectacle – could become a major player on the world stage.

A fervent critic of the two-state solution

Born in Haifa to immigrants from San Francisco, Bennett served in an elite unit of the Israel Defense Forces, before studying law at Hebrew University. He then became an entrepreneur and launched a tech start-up in 1999 which he then sold for $ 145 million.

He entered Israeli politics under Netanyahu’s wing years later, although the two fell out after being sacked as chief of staff in 2008. Bennett made a name for himself nationally in 2013. as the leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, expressing his desire to prevent the formation of a Palestinian state is a central plank of his speech to voters. After merging with another party, it renamed the party “Yamina” in 2019.

Over the next several years, Bennett held several positions in Netanyahu’s various governments, most notably as Minister of Defense, while continuing to outflank Netanyahu on matters relating to the Palestinian territories.

Is this finally the end for Benjamin Netanyahu, the great survivor of Israeli politics?
“The old models of peace between Israel and the Palestinians are no longer relevant. Now is the time to rethink the two-state solution, ”he wrote in a 2014 editorial in The New York Times.
“The era of these negotiations is over,” he told CNN the same year. “The approach we have been trying for twenty years has clearly come to an end.

He has consistently maintained his opposition to a two-state resolution ever since, citing security and ideological concerns as reasoning.

In 2018, he said that if he were defense minister he would adopt a “shoot-to-kill” policy on the border with Gaza. When asked if this would apply to children crossing the barrier, The Times of Israel reported that it replied, “They are not children – they are terrorists. We are kidding ourselves.

During the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas-led militants in Gaza, Bennett said the Palestinians could have made Gaza “a paradise.”

“They decided to make it a terrorist state,” Bennett told CNN’s Becky Anderson last month, before a ceasefire was reached. “The moment they decide they don’t want to annihilate us, it all ends.”

Unlikely bedfellows

Bennett spoke out against government regulation of the private sector and unions.

“If there is one thing I would like to accomplish in the next four years, it is to break the monopolies here and to break the hold of the big unions on the Israeli economy,” he told the Guardian in 2013.
On a handful of other issues, he is considered relatively liberal. Despite his religious background, during the last election campaign he said gay people should “have all the civil rights that a heterosexual person has in Israel,” The Times of Israel reported – although he also said that that did not mean that he would take steps to ensure legal equality.

In recent months, Bennett has become a thorn in Netanyahu’s side, fiercely criticizing his handling of the pandemic as well as the country’s endless political stalemate.

Four elections in two years have left the country on the move, with Netanyahu simultaneously appearing both stubbornly irremovable but still on the verge of losing power.

Bennett told CNN last month that compared to his time in tech and the military, Israel’s policies were “a hell of a mess.”

Bennett from right described centrist Yair Lapid (R), his new coalition partner, as his

“After four elections and two more months, it has been proven to all of us that there is simply no possible right-wing government led by Netanyahu,” Bennett said in a speech on Sunday, shortly before concluding. a deal with Lapid, a man he now calls his “friend”.

The two are unlikely bedfellows. A charismatic former TV presenter, Lapid has expressed support for a two-state solution with the Palestinians as well as measures to reduce the influence of religion in Israel, including creating civil marriages.

How much of his personal ideology can Bennett adopt, if he succeeds in becoming Prime Minister, is an open question.

He has already hinted that the government will rely heavily on compromise to function. “The left makes difficult compromises to allow me (…) to become prime minister,” he said on Sunday. “Everyone will have to postpone the realization of some of their dreams.”

But in the next few days, Bennett will be focusing on making a more immediate dream come true.

The coalition deal must pass a vote of confidence in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, before a new government and prime minister are sworn in.

According to Israeli law, the Knesset must also hold a vote of confidence within a week of formal notification of the formation of a new government. This step might not take place until Monday, which means the vote could take place until June 14.

This means that there is still time for Netanyahu and his allies to convince members of parliament to leave the coalition, or somehow tie things up in parliament. A collapse of the ceasefire with Hamas-led militants in Gaza or some other external event could also overthrow the burgeoning new government.

But if the Bennett and Lapid coalition can hold its own, it would put an end to weeks (or years) of political maneuvering – and strike a once unlikely deal that would elevate Bennett to Israel’s highest post.

CNN’s Hadas Gold contributed reporting. Reuters additional reports.

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