Naftali Bennett has made his name as a right-wing Israeli ultranationalist demanding more Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and tougher action against Palestinian militants.
He is now in the process of claiming it The highest office in Israel with the support of the fringe-left and the only Islamic Arab party in the Jewish state.
When the 49-year-old prepares to get to work – he dethrones Benjamin Netanyahu, his only mentor and five-time prime minister – his incendiary comments have been analyzed for suggestions as to what kind of leader he will be.
To those who have stood up to him, and friends who have known him for decades, the ability to live up to various roles – hard-line banner, tech billionaire 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 top of Israeli politics.
“He has always had a very considerate audience. Not calculated, but carefully calibrated, “said one of the two lifelong friends who asked for anonymity to speak freely about the likely next head of the Jewish state.” They add to very convenient contradictions, “said the second. “Naphtali politics is always evolving.”
This evolution will continue on Sunday, when 61 members of the Israeli parliament of 120 seats are present expected to vote Bennett enters as his prime minister, ending Netanyahu’s 12 years in office.
It would inaugurate several firsts for the Jewish state: the first religious Jew to wear the kipa, who observes the Sabbath to run the country; the first to share power with an Arab party, the Islamist Ra’am; and the first prime minister to control just six Knesset seats.
This would catapult a man who lived in the shadow of Netanyahu – first as chief of staff, then as a right-wing anchor in successive coalitions – to his political abyss, sending the longest-serving prime minister. Israel to the opposition benches as its corruption process gathers momentum.
Bennett, leader of the small Yamina party, would replace him at the head of an eight-headed coalition that stretches from the left fringe to the ultranationalist right. He would take first place for two years under a rotating prime minister with Yair Lapid, the opposition leader who reunited the coalition.
Keeping them together would force Bennett to evolve further, said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israeli Institute of Democracy, who has known him since his time in the Sayeret Matkal, the elite unit of the Israeli Defense Force.
Later, the Sayeret Matkal usually recruited among the Ashkenazi Jews of Israel, descendants of the secular Europeans who founded the state. But Bennett came from a diverse group that identifies itself as the national religious camp, mixing Orthodox Judaism with state-building. The camp, which generally believes in expanding the settlement in the occupied West Bank, has gained importance in Israel since the late 1990s.
“Bennett was one of the first to mark the ambition of the members of this national religious sector to join one of the leading elite institutions that make up the country,” Plesner said.
He continued: “The fact that he is the prime minister of this sector is a continuation of this same line of thinking – that the national religious field is now the main dish, not just a supplement, and they are taking on wider responsibilities. “
Born in Israel to American Jewish parents, his successful post-military business career culminated in a multimillion-dollar exit from a technology company. The military cartel that is key to his persona revolves around demanding that the Israeli government free the armed forces to take tougher steps against Palestinian militants like Hamas.
But his time in the army was eclipsed by the 1996 Qana massacre. Commanding a unit in Lebanon during Operation Grapes of Wrath, he called for an artillery strike near a refugee camp. UN after they were under fire from Hezbollah. At least 100 civilians have been killed.
Decades later, he was forced to reject comments leaked by a cabinet meeting that “had killed a lot of Arabs – and there is no problem.”
For the international community, which has to deal with an Israeli prime minister who has already explained his refusal of a Palestinian state, his brief stint in 2010 as head of an umbrella group of West Bank settlers is of similar concern.
“There is very little fruit hanging in the settlement business that can be torn down very soon to appease this base,” said a European diplomat, who met with Bennett to discuss the demolition of the Palestinian-built West Bank and backed by the Palestinians. ‘EU. countries. “It’s good television: send soldiers to tear down tents and houses, then change the channel.”
But Oded Revivi, mayor of the Efrat settlement and a foreign envoy to the group, remembers Bennett’s stint as uneventful and ineffective.
“I can’t say that during this period there was a single specific goal that was accomplished,” he said in an interview. And Bennett at the head of a coalition that included the left and an Arab party will lead to “an impasse,” Revivi predicted.
“They will not be able to promote a two-state solution, nor will they be able to evacuate any of the establishments,” he said.
The compromises forced by the nature of the coalition will also temper Bennett’s urge, say Bennett analysts and friends.
After two years of political paralysis, passing a balance sheet, accepting stimulus spending while maintaining public debt – which has risen above 70 percent of gross national product during the coronavirus crisis – the first order of work is expected, . The coalition has already agreed informally to look at the economy and recover from the pandemic.
“Just passing a budget, making competent appointments to the civil service across the board, getting the government machinery to work again and passing legislation, will automatically introduce a new principle and fresh atmosphere,” Plesner said.
“He does not need to resolve the 100-year conflict with the Palestinians to be perceived as a competent and successful prime minister.”