Jerusalem24 – Mohammad Hamayel – 12 years after taking office, Benjamin Netanyahu might be stepping down from his position of Prime Minister to former Israeli Defense Minister, Naftali Bennet. The high-tech millionaire, known for his far-right politics, recently announced that he will be joining forces with his political rivals in the Israeli left in order to avoid another Israeli Knesset elections.
As the possible end of Netanyahu’s era draws near, a lot of people around the world are breathing a sigh of relief. Who is Naftali Bennet? The 49-year-old politician who pushed his career forward by pandering to the Israeli far-right, is the son of American immigrants to Israel. He was drafted into the Israeli military in 1990, serving in the Sayeret Matkal and Maglan commando units as a company commander. Taking part in many military operations, including Operation Grapes of Wrath; the sixteen-day campaign the Israeli military conducted against Lebanon in 1996 which was an attempt to end rocket attacks on Northern Israel. However, his involvement in this particular operation that is considered controversial. After his unit came under fire, he called in artillery support which ended up striking a United Nations building that was being used as a shelter for civilians. The incident became known as the Qana massacre. The result was 106 civilians killed, 10 wounded, of them were four United Nations peacekeepers.
Moving to New York in 1999, Bennet built a career as a software entrepreneur. Co-founding Cyota, an anti-fraud software company, he served as its CEO until 2005. The company was sold to RSA security for $145 million, making Bennet a multimillionaire. Returning to Israel, he took part in the 2006 Lebanon War and later joining the then leader of the opposition, Benajamin Netanyahu; serving as his chief of staff from 2006 to 2008. During his tenure as chief of staff, he would run Netanyahu’s campaign to lead the Likud party.
On January 2010, Bennet was appointed as the director-general of the Yesha Council; leading a struggle against the settlement freeze in 2010. Bennet, currently leads the Yamina party, which continues to call for annexation of different parts of the West Bank that Israel had occupied in 1967. In 2018, after Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation as Minister of Defense, Bennet announced that he was seeking the position for himself. When Netanyahu stated that he wanted the position, he announced he would be leaving the Likud led coalition. Bennet withdrew his claim to the Defense Ministry.
On Sunday, however, Bennet announced he will be allying himself with Yair Lapid’s anti-Netanyahu coalition. His Yamina party holds six vital seats, allowing Bennet to become the next king maker in Israel. Lapid offered Bennet the chance to serve the first term of the next government as prime minister.
Bennet offers no real change for the Palestinians. From fighting against the freeze on settlement construction in 2010, to denying that Israel is occupying the West Bank because “there was never a Palestinian state here.” Speaking to an English-speaking crowd in Tel Aviv, he said “I will do everything in my power to prevent a Palestinian state.” While serving as Economy Minister in 2013, Bennet wrote on Facebook, “terrorists should be killed, not released.” He was referring to a decision that would have released 104 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, a decision that was pressured by the American Obama administration.