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Naftali Bennett: What you need to know about the new Israeli prime minister


Not having crossed the electoral threshold in the first elections in April 2019, his right-wing party had only seven seats after the last elections.

And yet Bennett is now the Prime Minister of Israel.

Former tech entrepreneur who entered politics to serve then opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu as chief of staff ousted his former boss on Sunday, ending Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister minister of the country after more than 12 consecutive years in power, and starting a new era – if still uncertain – in Israel.

“Twice in history we have lost our national home precisely because the leaders of the generation were not able to sit down with each other and compromise. Everyone was right, but with everything what they were right, they burned the house down on us. ”Bennett said in a speech before taking the oath. “I’m proud to be able to sit down with people with very different points of view than mine.”

Few Israelis voted for Bennett’s Yamina party in the March elections; he won just 7 seats, compared to 30 for Netanyahu. But Bennett found himself courted by both Netanyahu and centrist leader Yair Lapid in their efforts to form a parliamentary majority.

Now Bennett will occupy the country’s most important post for two years, before handing it over to Lapid.

The two-man’s partnership is unlikely, and Bennett will sit alongside politicians with ideologies completely opposed to his in government. But as Lapid and Bennett sat next to each other at the first government cabinet meeting late Sunday night, Lapid said it was based on mutual trust and friendship.

The two formed a political brotherhood in 2013, and it reappeared to lead the country into a new political era.

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

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

Strong 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 from his post as chief of staff in 2008.

Bennett made a name for himself nationally in 2013 as leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, making his desire to prevent the formation of a Palestinian state a central part of his pitch to voters. After merging with another party, it renamed the party “Yamina” in 2019.

Bennett has held several positions in Netanyahu’s various governments, most notably as defense minister, while continuing to spill over Netanyahu on issues relating to the Palestinian territories.

“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 that 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.

The international community, including the United States, is pushing for the resumption of a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, but this government is ill-equipped to handle such negotiations, as two of the parties fiercely oppose the establishment. of a state.

In 2018 Bennett 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 deluding 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 over 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 it did mean taking steps to ensure legal equality.

Bennett has become a right-wing thorn on Netanyahu’s side, fiercely criticizing his handling of the pandemic as well as the country’s endless political stalemate.

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

Naftali Bennett: What you need to know about the new Israeli prime minister

Bennett’s government will focus on domestic issues during his two years as prime minister, before handing the reins to Lapid in accordance with their coalition agreement.

These will include the relationship between religion and the state, cost of living, and quality of life issues. Israel has also not adopted a budget since March 2018; the newly anointed government has three months to pass one, otherwise the Knesset will automatically dissolve and the country will head for elections again.

He will be closely watched by a familiar enemy. Netanyahu, once considered a “magician” in the country’s political scene, warned during Sunday’s swearing-in debate that he would remain a force in parliament. “We will be back soon,” he told lawmakers, after asserting that the new government would not resist Iran.

How much of his personal ideology Bennett can now adopt as prime minister is an open question, but he has already made it clear that compromise will be an important part of the government’s ability to function.

“The government that will be formed represents many Israeli citizens: from Ofra to Tel Aviv, from Rahat to Kiryat Shmona. This is precisely where the opportunity lies, ”Bennett said on Sunday. “Our principle is this: we will sit down together and move forward on what we agree on – and there are a lot of things we agree on, transport, education, etc. – and what separates us we will put aside. “

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