Man of the moment: Naftali Bennett
A year ago, the only people who knew who Bennett was were a few friends in Ra’anana and in hi-tech.
Bayit Yehudi Bennett and Netanyahu ad. Photo: Courtesy Bayit Yehudi
The election results were simple: Yair Lapid won, Binyamin Netanyahu
But the story wasn’t over. The grueling coalition negotiations
began and lasted until the last possible second. And this is when the story took
a twist, and ended with a new winner: Naftali Bennett.
A year ago, the
only people who knew who he was were a few friends in Ra’anana and in
And – oh, yeah – Bibi and Sara, too.
And today? Let’s give
a round of applause for the new minister of economics and trade, religious
services, and the person who controls the Construction and Housing Ministry, the
Knesset Finance Committee, pensioners affairs and a political party with 12
Knesset seats, as well as the heart of the leader of another party with 19 MKs
But the reality is actually much greater: On Wednesday
afternoon, when Lapid and Netanyahu were each entrenched in their camps,
coalition negotiations got stuck and the possibility of a constitutional crisis
and a new election seemed closer than ever. At that junction, Bennett made a
decision that saved the day. Naftali Bennett, and no one else, was the last
piece of the puzzle. A government was finally formed.
Bennett had been
Netanyahu’s chief of staff, but got sacked. He was now an enemy of the First
Family and the nation. Following the 2009 election, when strategic affairs
minister Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon appointed Bennett as director-general, Mrs.
Netanyahu made it clear that this would happen over her dead body, so Bennett
was excommunicated from there, too.
Bennett hedged his bets and aimed for
the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. They,
too, threw him out.
At this point he sat down and tried to think what he
He was a young, talented guy who had already had a hi-tech
But ever since he had begun working for Bibi, doors had been
slamming in his face. Bennett deliberated, and at last decided, together with
his loyal partner, Ayelet Shaked, to go for Bayit Yehudi.
happened next. The Netanyahus went after him there, too. Two weeks before the
Bayit Yehudi primary, Bibi was sure that Zevulun Orlev would beat Bennett for
the party’s chairmanship. Sara and Bibi sent Natan Eshel in to take care of
things. Eshel wined and dined Orlev, and generally stirred things up. And
because Eshel is the kind of guy you can rely on, Bennett squashed Orlev, and
took over the leadership of Bayit Yehudi.
But it didn’t end here, because
the first couple did not despair. They boycotted him. Before the recent national
election it was clear that Bennett’s chances of being included in the coalition
were close to zero.
American strategist Arthur Finkelstein promised Bibi
45 seats, or at least a minimum of 42, and Netanyahu believed the stupid
headlines in Time magazine that referred to his upcoming
Bibi’s advisers were clear when they claimed: Bennett is not
even in the running.
Forget about him.
But then Bennett took
counsel and found a savior: Yair Lapid. The pact was sealed, as was Netanyahu’s
fate. As usual, Bibi had only himself to blame. He is the one who dug the pit he
fell into. But as time passed, the picture became clearer, until Netanyahu
finally understood: His fate was in the hands of Naftali Bennett. The alliance
he had created with Lapid meant that he and Lapid would both be in and the
haredim out. And there was more – if they wanted to, these two could call for a
new election, which would mean one thing for sure: Bibi would have to leave the
house on Balfour Street.
The Bennett-Lapid alliance was based on a
Listen, Bennett once told someone, Yair is just a
great guy. We have different outlooks on political and religious matters, but we
see eye to eye on finance, sharing the burden, and most important, ethical
conduct. Yair is an extremely ethical person. He’s honest, smart and his word is
worth its weight in gold. We have a true friendship. We decided that any
decisions on political issues would be based on values and truth. We made a
promise, and we’ve kept it.
Bennett explains that this alliance is based
on common sense and fairness. “I told Yair that I would be with him for
everything fair and reasonable. Therefore, when he insisted on getting the
Foreign Ministry, I did not come.
But when he asked for Education, I was
Why did Bennett support him for Education but not for the Foreign
Ministry? Last Wednesday afternoon, when the significance of the impasse came to
light, Bennett sat down with his advisers in his house in Ra’anana and racked
his brain. If Lapid doesn’t cave in during the next few hours, Bibi said he
would form an instant government with the haredim. At that point, when he saw
that his friend was being cornered, Bennett made a decision: Lapid would get the
Education Ministry. And one more thing: Bennett decided that there would be no
minority government. If Netanyahu formed a 55-member minority coalition with the
haredim, in the hope that Bennett wouldn’t try to bring it down, then he would
do just that. And a new election would be called.
Bennett got into his
car, and drove to Lapid’s house. He listened to Lapid explain once more why he
wanted Education. So Bennett agreed to go for it, but reminded Lapid, “Don’t
forget, though, that sometimes we need to make compromises.”
they forged what Bennett calls the great compromise: Lapid would give up
Interior, but get Education, and one more ministry (for Amir Peretz – better to
have him on their side) would be added.
Then he got into his car and
drove to Jerusalem. The rest is history.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.