Naftali Bennett made his identify as a hard-right Israeli ultranationalist demanding extra Jewish settlement within the occupied West Bank and harsher motion towards Palestinian militants.
Now he’s on the verge of claiming Israel’s highest office with the assist of the fringe-left and the Jewish state’s solely Islamist Arab occasion.
As the 49-year-old prepares to ascend to the job — dethroning Benjamin Netanyahu, his one-time mentor and five-time prime minister — his incendiary feedback are being parsed for hints for what type of chief he will likely be.
To those that have risen alongside him, and associates who’ve identified him for many years, the flexibility to inhabit totally different roles — hard-right standard-bearer, tech multi-millionaire and, out of the blue, a uniting voice in a divided nation — says extra about Bennett than the incendiary feedback which have made headlines in his calculated rise to the summit of Israeli politics.
“He’s always had a very considered public persona. Not calculated, but carefully calibrated,” mentioned one of two longtime associates who requested for anonymity to discuss freely in regards to the doubtless subsequent chief of the Jewish state. “They add up to very convenient contradictions,” mentioned the second. “Naftali the politician is always evolving.”
That evolution will proceed on Sunday, when 61 members of Israel’s 120-seat parliament are expected to vote Bennett into his first premiership, ending Netanyahu’s 12 years in workplace.
It would usher in a number of firsts for the Jewish state: the primary kipa-wearing, Sabbath-observing non secular Jew to run the nation; the primary to share energy with an Arab occasion, the Islamist Ra’am; and the primary prime minister who controls simply six Knesset seats.
This would catapult a person who has lived within the shadow of Netanyahu — first as chief of workers, then as a rightwing anchor in successive coalitions — to his political executioner, sending Israel’s longest-serving premier to the opposition benches simply as his corruption trial gathers momentum.
Bennett, chief of the small Yamina occasion, would change him on the helm of an eight-headed coalition that spans from the perimeter left to the ultranationalist proper. He would take the highest job for two years as half of a rotating premiership with Yair Lapid, the opposition chief who assembled the coalition.
Keeping it collectively would pressure Bennett to evolve additional, mentioned Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, who has identified him since their time within the Sayeret Matkal, the elite unit of the Israeli Defence Force.
Then, the Sayeret Matkal normally recruited from amongst Israel’s Ashkenazi Jews, descendants of the secular Europeans who based the state. But Bennett hailed from a unique group that identifies because the nationwide non secular camp, which blends Orthodox Judaism with state-building. The camp, which usually believes in increasing settlement within the occupied West Bank, has been gaining prominence in Israel because the late Nineties.
“Bennett was one of the first to mark the ambition of members of this national religious sector to join one of the leading elite institutions that make the country,” Plesner mentioned.
He continued: “The fact that he’s going to be the first prime minister from this sector is a continuation of that same line of thought — that the national religious camp is now the main dish, not just a supplement, and they are taking on broader responsibilities.”
Born in Israel to American Jewish mother and father, his profitable post-military enterprise profession culminated within the multimillion-dollar exit from a tech firm. The navy file that’s key to his persona revolves round demanding that the Israeli authorities unlock the armed forces to take harsher steps towards Palestinian militants comparable to Hamas.
But his time within the navy was overshadowed by the Qana bloodbath of 1996. Leading a unit deep into Lebanon throughout Operation Grapes of Wrath, he known as in an artillery strike close to a UN shelter after they got here underneath fireplace from Hizbollah. At least 100 civilians had been killed.
Decades later, he was compelled to deny leaked feedback from a cupboard assembly that he “had killed lots of Arabs — and there is no problem with that”.
For the worldwide group, which should take care of an Israeli premier who has already outlined his rejection of a Palestinian state, his quick stint in 2010 as chief of an umbrella group of West Bank settlers is of equal concern.
“There are a lot of low-hanging fruits in the settlement enterprise that he can pluck off very quickly to appease that base,” mentioned a European diplomat, who has met Bennett to focus on the demolition of Palestinian-built and EU-supported West Bank villages. “It’s good television: send in soldiers to rip down tents and homes, then change the channel.”
But Oded Revivi, mayor of the Efrat settlements and international envoy for 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 completed,” he mentioned in an interview. And Bennett heading a coalition that included the left and an Arab occasion would lead to “a standstill”, Revivi predicted.
“They won’t be able to promote a two-state solution, nor will they be able to evacuate any of the settlements,” he mentioned.
The compromises compelled by the character of the coalition would additionally mood Bennett’s hard-right urges, mentioned analysts and the buddies of Bennett.
After two years of political paralysis, passing a funds, agreeing stimulus spending whereas protecting public debt — which has soared above 70 per cent of gross home product through the coronavirus disaster — is predicted to be the primary order of enterprise, they are saying. The coalition has already informally agreed to concentrate on the financial system and recovering from the pandemic.
“Just by passing a budget, making competent civil service nominations across the board, getting the machinery of government to work again and pass legislation, it will automatically introduce a fresh new start and atmosphere,” Plesner mentioned.
“He doesn’t need to solve the 100-year conflict with the Palestinians to be perceived as a competent and successful prime minister.”