Is Naftali Bennett the answer to Israel's problems?
Thomas O. Falk
Naftali Bennett /Getty

Naftali Bennett /Getty

Editor's note: Thomas O. Falk is a London-based political analyst and commentator. He holds a Master of Arts in international relations from the University of Birmingham and specializes in U.S. affairs. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Once he is sworn in at the beginning of next week, Naftali Bennett will become Israel's new prime minister. While he will struggle to keep his volatile coalition together, he might already be the big winner in Israel's latest quest for a stable government. 

Bennett's Yamina party won only seven of the total of 120 Knesset seats. The fact that he has now emerged as the great winner shows how confused the political situation in Israel has been. 

After four weeks of negotiations, opposition leader Yair Lapid managed to form a historically unique left-center-right coalition that could hardly be more heterogeneous. Even an Arab party will be part of the new government – a novum in Israel's history. 

All parties shared one particular goal: prevent Benjamin Netanyahu from regaining power. It remains to be seen whether that can be sufficient to help the country out of the crisis after 12 years of Netanyahu and finally to bring about stability after four elections in 2 years.

To add even another dynamic, Bennett entered politics as Benjamin Netanyahu's protege. He served as Netanyahu's Chief of Staff from 2006-2008. Later, Bennett would serve as a minister in Netanyahu coalitions in different areas. 

Bennett, a tactician with Netanyahu-esque skills, hesitated for a long time after the recent election, negotiated with Netanyahu and Yair Lapid, leveraging his position to obtain the ultimate power. 

Politically, he must be considered on the right of Netanyahu, a hardliner with a proclivity to push the limits of what can be said rhetorically. When others were still debating the peace process with the Palestinians, Bennett said in 2013 that there was no place for a Palestinian state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.

In 2014, Bennett gave a speech at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies and said Jews could not live under Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank as they "would be killed," once again ruling out a two-state solution. 

Bennett's ideology displays how fragile this new government of Israel is. Particularly since among the parties are Meretz, Raam Party (Arab), and Awoda, three parties that explicitly seek the establishment of a Palestinian state.

It is the primary reason why all actors involved have agreed to put ideological questions aside for now. Or, as Bennett called it: "Painful compromises" would have to be made by everyone, the right in the new government as well as the left. 

Instead, the new government will be focusing on finally adopting a new budget and help the economy. 

Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Israel, March 24, 2021. /Getty

Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Israel, March 24, 2021. /Getty

The latter sounds reasonably coherent in theory. In practice, however, this plan can change swiftly. For example, what happens if the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel does not last? Will Bennett again call for military enforcement in Israeli cities and fire missiles at Gaza, knowing that most of his coalition would oppose such actions? Could he even react without the Arabs directly disrupting the alliance?

And how, once the economic issues have been tackled, are right-wingers, whose electors are primarily located in the settlements, will any progress towards a two-state solution be possible?

The margin of error of this new government is smaller than it may have ever been. The first minor crisis will show whether this is a coalition that genuinely aims to make the country better or whether it was a house of cards made up of Netanyahu hatred and appetite for political offices.

In any case, Bennett might already be the big winner. He will be at the head of this new government - for half the legislature, before Lapid will take over.

However, and here we will see how much Bennett learned from Netanyahu, the rotation would not occur if the government were to fail within the next 24 months. Instead, the country would face yet another election. 

It is the identical scenario that the Netanyahu government dissolved in December 2020. Netanyahu should have handed over the office to Benny Gantz in November 2021. Many observers considered it a Machiavellian spiel of Netanyahu's, triggering the collapse of the government to circumvent the rotation agreement, forcing new elections and regaining power. 

With yet another of such rotation agreements, Israel could once again find itself in a similar position, especially since Bennett can now use the time to distinguish himself as a government leader and position his party effectively for the next election in the meantime. 

The victim in all of this could once again be Israel, a country that is craving for political stability. Netanyahu could not deliver it, and it's not easy for Bennett to provide it, too.

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