New sense of stability in Israel as Naftali Bennett reaches 100-day mark

On June 13, Naftali Bennett did what many of his fellow citizens believed was impossible, replacing Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, as prime minister.

Exhausted by two years in which four consecutive elections proved inconclusive, and increasingly thirsty for stability, the Israelis have watched the political revolution with caution, fearing it will not last. No one was more dismissive than Netanyahu, who assured fellow parliamentarians attending the inauguration of the new government that “in two or three months this thing is going to break.”

Yet, to the surprise of friends and foes, 100 days later, it appears that Netanyahu’s former aide Bennett, 49, has managed to maintain his unlikely rainbow coalition. At the head of an unlikely alliance that spans the socialist-leaning Meretz party, a gay rights champion, to the United Arab List, an Islamist party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, Bennett appears to be moving smoothly towards the next step. important, the passage of a national budget in the first half of November.

As Bennett prepares to celebrate his 100th day as prime minister on Tuesday, simply replacing Netanyahu has proven to be a major change. “Kidnapping Netanyahu is the mission of this government,” said Afif Abu Much, a prominent political analyst.

“People just forgot what we freed ourselves from,” said Ehud Barak, a former Prime Minister of the Labor Party, referring to the messy last years of Netanyahu’s tenure. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been indicted on charges of criminal corruption and embarked on what critics saw as a total attack on Israeli institutions, including the suspension of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in March 2020, and his attempt in April 2021 to install a pal as justice minister, an action overturned by the Supreme Court.

Yet some who agree with this assessment believe that much more needs to change.

“If the goal was to impeach Benjamin Netanyahu, it has been achieved,” said Ahmad Tibi, a former lawmaker of the Arab-majority United Arab List party and left-wing activist for a Palestinian state now in a mess Member of Parliament: sitting on the opposition benches alongside his rival Netanyahu.

“The real question is whether politics has changed. From our point of view, no, ”Tibi said in an interview. “Not for the Arab community, not for Gaza, the West Bank settlements continue to grow, there is no peace process. No change.”

For now, it may be difficult to separate Bennett from his predecessor because the entirety of Bennett’s short eight years in Israeli electoral politics has been spent under the shadow of Netanyahu’s rule. For most of this time, Bennett was best known as some kind of amiable extremist, a leader of the West Bank settler movement who denied the Palestinians’ right to an independent state, pinched Netanyahu from the right, dressed in polo shirts and jeans, and lived in an upscale suburb of Tel Aviv.

Hints of a different and less strident Bennett have emerged from the rare accounts of those who have known him since his early pre-political years as a startup impresario. In 2013, when Bennett won his first legislative seat, his business partner Lior Golan, a moderate who did not vote for him, said that “Bennett’s dream was to recreate in politics what he did in Cyota. – which was a team working in unison towards a certain goal, without internal politics, for mutual success. Cyota was the Bennett startup founded with three friends and sold, in 2005, for $ 145 million in cash.

While Bennett’s government may still find itself mired in paralysis, the description of a team of technocrats working towards a common goal in many ways fits the coalition he currently leads.

“Preserving the democratic balance of the nation prevailed over partisan political goals,” said former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who served from 2006 to 2009, in an interview with Bennett’s government, which he said. hailed as “a return to normality”.

Barak, who shares little common political ground with Bennett, said that “for many of us there is a real sigh of relief. You no longer hear a prime minister alarming the citizens of a very powerful state about imaginary demons abroad and traitors inside. “

At the same time, the Israeli media seem to be struggling to let go of Netanyahu. On September 15, numerous Israeli media reported on the first anniversary of the Abraham’s Accords, the normalization agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan negotiated by the Trump administration, highlighting the fact that Bennett did not mention Netanyahu in his formal remarks.

Still, for those with long-standing ties to Bennett, his ambition and success, so far, as Prime Minister come as no surprise. Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a non-partisan Jerusalem think tank, has known Bennett since they served together in Sayeret Matkal, the most elite unit in the IDF. They later became friends while studying at Hebrew University. A few years later, Plesner found himself training with Bennett when they were young assistants to Netanyahu and Olmert, respectively.

Plesner described the Bennett he knew in the late 1980s as “a dominant man, a leader, very enterprising, but also a guy who really listened and was really interested, who didn’t take anything for granted.” He has always been trustworthy, pragmatic, with his feet firmly rooted in the ground.

A generation before them, Netanyahu had also served as an officer in the same legendary unit. The difference between the two leaders, Plesner said, is that to this day, “Bennett’s team love him. Ditto for him. They may not agree on politics, but he sees them as patriots, they are his brothers in arms. There is no hate.

Bibi, on the other hand, he said, using Netanyahu’s ubiquitous nickname, “harbored a grudge that only grew and grew against anyone who disagreed with him.”

From Plesner’s point of view, Bennett’s difficulty in establishing a public figure was the result of contradictory traits: on the one hand, a true believer in hard politics whom he represents, but on the other, a “natural unifier”.

Israel’s new government has received praise for its rollout of COVID-19 booster injections, which appear to decrease rates of the Delta variant, for Bennett’s successful visit to the White House in August and the ceremonial summit with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi, and for the renewal of diplomatic initiatives towards Jordan and the states of the Persian Gulf.

While Netanyahu, who turns 72 in October, has yet to gain traction as opposition leader, the specter of his political return is credited with supporting Bennett. In a positive assessment of Bennett’s first 90 days in power, the Haaretz daily said: “World leaders give him power, give him prestige and legitimacy, because his predecessor’s return to power is their nightmare. It’s hard to blame them.

Relief at the restoration of conventional diplomacy and the regular political process is a common theme among Israeli political observers, even those like Barak and Olmert with deep misgivings about Israel’s predicament.

Topping the list of Israel’s security concerns is Iran’s nuclear program, where, according to retired General Amos Yadlin, “Netanyahu left Bennett a very difficult legacy.” Iran’s race for uranium enrichment since the United States, encouraged by Netanyahu, abandoned the multinational nuclear treaty in 2015, “would force any Israeli prime minister to make very difficult decisions” said Yadlin, who recently retired as executive director of the Institute for National Security Studies.

One hundred days, Yadlin said, “is a period of time in which most of the time you shouldn’t make mistakes, but you have nothing to show yet.”

But he praised the “change of mind, the different music, the feeling of confidence” that Bennett engendered in the face of the many challenges.

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