How Naftali Bennett, Head of a Small Right-Wing Party in Israel, Rose to the Top

JERUSALEM — The morning after Donald J. Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, Naftali Bennett, the energetic chief of a comparatively small, Israeli pro-settlement social gathering, exulted earlier than an viewers of overseas reporters in Jerusalem, “The era 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 Bank, is poised to develop into Israel’s subsequent prime minister, changing Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Bennett, a former ally of Mr. Netanyahu typically 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 — not to point out many Israelis — questioning what sort of chief he is perhaps.

Shifting between seemingly contradictory alliances, he has been referred to as a right-wing extremist, a pragmatist and an opportunist.

But in a measure of his abilities, he has now pulled off a feat that’s extraordinary even by the perplexing requirements of Israeli politics: He has maneuvered himself into the prime workplace regardless that his social gathering, Yamina, gained simply seven of the 120 seats in the Parliament.

A canny and bold 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 as the one carrying the crown.

In a profession full of paradoxes, Mr. Bennett, as soon as a prime aide to Mr. Netanyahu, 71, performed a essential position in toppling his former boss, Israel’s longest-serving chief. As a end result, Mr. Netanyahu was introduced down — for now, not less than — not solely by his longtime rivals on the heart and left of the political spectrum but in addition by somebody thought of much more hard-line.

Naftali Bennett, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2020.  Credit…Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Press

Mr. Bennett has lengthy championed West Bank 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, together with his spouse and 4 kids. He is religiously observant — he could be the first prime minister to put on a kipa — however he’ll head a governing coalition that’s largely secular.

He is greatest identified for views on settlements, annexation and Palestinian statehood that many on Israel’s left and heart — not to point out a lot of the world — take into account not simply improper however harmful. Yet his coalition spans Israel’s fractious political spectrum from left to proper, and depends on the assist of a small Arab, Islamist social gathering.

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 crisis in Israel is unprecedented on a global level,” he mentioned in a televised speech on Sunday. “We could end up with fifth, sixth, even 10th elections, dismantling the walls of the country, brick by brick, until our house falls in on us. Or we can stop the madness and take responsibility.”

Now Mr. Bennett faces the biggest problem of his political profession, attempting to maintain that unlikely coalition collectively, to vault from being a second-tier determine to a nationwide chief, and to preserve relations with Israel’s most necessary ally, the United States. President Biden has been cooler towards Mr. Netanyahu than Mr. Trump was.

“There will be, I think, a collective sigh of relief within the Biden administration that they have new, young Israeli blood to deal with,” 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 won’t be able to pursue that agenda.”

He campaigned as the right-wing various to Mr. Netanyahu, who has held energy for 12 years consecutively and 15 years total, and is now standing trial on corruption costs. They have typically differed extra in tone than substance, as Mr. Bennett averted the inflammatory language and long-running authorized drama of his predecessor.

Aida Touma-Sliman, a lawmaker from the Joint List of predominantly Arab events, wrote on Twitter that Mr. Bennett would lead “a dangerous right-wing government,” one that might “remove Netanyahu and preserve 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 same hollow slogans about hate and division,” and of “committing the fraud of the century.”

People who know him describe Mr. Bennett as likable and tolerant behind closed doorways, a pragmatist at coronary heart, although how that personal individual would translate to governing stays to be seen.

Mr. Bennett, then serving as the economic system minister and head of the Jewish Home Party, posing with highschool college students in 2015.Credit…Uriel Sinai for The New York Times

“People think he’s a fanatic. He’s not,” mentioned Ayelet Frish, an Israeli political guide. She mentioned Mr. Bennett as soon as informed her that he had grown up in a residence of “Woodstock parents,” surrounded by principally secular tradition, and famous his time in the largely secular high-tech enterprise world.

Orit Galili-Zucker, a former strategic communications adviser to Mr. Netanyahu, mentioned Mr. Bennett aimed “to present an alternative to Netanyahu’s toxic discourse.”

In Mr. Bennett’s first marketing campaign, in 2013, Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud social gathering branded him as “a dangerous, messianic right-winger,” she mentioned. Now Likud was calling him a “dangerous 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.

Under the new coalition’s authorities, Mr. Bennett will function prime minister for the first half of a four-year time period, to be adopted by the secular, centrist Mr. Lapid. By conceding the first flip in the rotation, Mr. Lapid smoothed the approach for different right-wing politicians to be a part of the anti-Netanyahu alliance.

Understand Developments in Israeli Politics

Key Figures. The primary gamers in the newest twist in Israeli politics have very completely different agendas, however one frequent objective. Naftali Bennett, who leads a small right-wing social gathering, and Yair Lapid, the centrist chief of the Israeli opposition, have joined forces to kind a various coalition to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.Range of Ideals. Spanning Israel’s fractious political spectrum from left to proper, and counting on the assist of a small Arab, Islamist social gathering, the coalition, dubbed the “change government” by supporters, will seemingly mark a profound shift for Israel.A Common Goal. After grinding impasse that led to 4 inconclusive elections in two years, and a fair longer interval of polarizing politics and authorities paralysis, the architects of the coalition have pledged to get Israel again on observe.An Unclear Future. Parliament nonetheless has to ratify the fragile settlement in a confidence vote in the coming days. But even when it does, it stays unclear how a lot change the “change government” may deliver to Israel as a result of some of the events concerned have little in frequent moreover animosity for Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. Bennett represents a new technology in Israeli politics and could be the second-youngest prime minister in 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 elements of his childhood residing in the United States and Canada. He served in the similar Israeli Army commando unit Mr. Netanyahu had. He then moved to New York and based a software program firm that he later offered 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 workers ended in acrimony in 2008. A pointy critic of some of Mr. Netanyahu’s insurance policies, he however sat in a number of Netanyahu-led governments as a minister, in addition to in the opposition. In late 2019, Mr. Netanyahu appointed him as protection minister to preserve Mr. Bennett on his aspect at a time of political turmoil, and he served in that position for about six months.

Mr. Bennett at the Western Wall in Jerusalem forward of parliamentary elections in 2013.Credit…Ammar Awad/Reuters

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 title adjustments and allies. In 2013, once they had been a pair of political newcomers, he shaped what was seen as a shocking alliance with Mr. Lapid.

Mr. Bennett has typically punched above his weight on safety points. On the eve of the 2014 Gaza warfare, 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 12 months, he wrote an uncompromising op-ed in The New York Times explaining his view that Israel couldn’t enable the creation of a Palestinian state. He has proposed granting the Palestinians “a sort of autonomy on steroids” in about 40 % of the West Bank, and step by step making use of Israeli sovereignty in the relaxation of the territory — a transfer a lot of the world would take into account unlawful.

The subsequent 12 months he wrote one other op-ed forcefully condemning Jewish extremists who had stabbed contributors at a homosexual satisfaction parade in Jerusalem and burned three members of a Palestinian household to dying in a West Bank village, denouncing the perpetrators as “terrorists.”

At instances, Mr. Bennett and Ms. Shaked joined forces with extra radical political factions in the spiritual Zionist camp who’re closely influenced by their rabbis. Running as the New Right social gathering in the April 2019 election, with out their extra excessive companions, they failed to achieve sufficient votes to enter Parliament.

In the run-up to this 12 months’s election, the pair tried to broaden their enchantment to extra mainstream Israelis, and had extra success, gathering some assist 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 may kind a parliamentary majority with out his social gathering. Both sides courted him, providing him a probability to function prime minister in a rotation settlement. Mr. Bennett made it clear he would have most well-liked to be a part of a right-wing authorities, however Mr. Netanyahu proved unable to kind one.