Analysis: Somebody get Bennett a felafel!

The Bayit Yehudi leader is the real winner of coalition negotiations.

Naftali Bennett at a Bayit Yehudi faction meeting 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Naftali Bennett at a Bayit Yehudi faction meeting 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
At the height of election season, Channel 2 journalist Nissim Mishal made a televised bet with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett that Mishal was sure he would win.
Mishal insisted that Bennett would not be in the next government, because there was too much scorched earth between him and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Bennett bet Mishal a felafel – even though Mishal raised an eyebrow at a hitech millionaire eating street food – that his party would be in the coalition.
Someone get Bennett a felafel.
Maybe Mishal should throw in a shwarma for good measure, because not only is Bennett in the government, he is its architect and the big winner of coalition talks.
Throughout the election campaign, Bennett, who called himself everyone’s “brother,” said he wanted to be an extra hand on the steering wheel of Netanyahu’s government and would recommend the prime minister to President Shimon Peres. Bayit Yehudi even put Netanyahu’s face on some of its billboards, making it clear that its eyes were on the coalition.
Still, Bennett left his job as Netanyahu’s chief of staff on bad terms, and the Likud put out many attack ads – some anonymous, some not – against Bayit Yehudi.
Plus, as Bayit Yehudi faction administrator Uri Bank, who has been involved in settler political parties for the past decade, pointed out recently, Netanyahu often likes to leave parties to his Right out of his coalitions.
This way, Bank explained, Netanyahu can tell the world, “My government isn’t extreme; those guys aren’t my partners.”
After the election, it took Netanyahu two weeks to call Bennett and invite him to talks. The prime minister even called Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On and Arab party leaders – totally improbable coalition partners – before deigning to speak to his former chief of staff.
But Bennett played his cards right, forming an alliance with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid that meant the two would coordinate demands in negotiations and only join the government together. The two held a series of meetings at each other’s homes, ordering take-out – the party leaders like tacos – and working on the coalition.
The bond remained unbreakable through thick, thin and endless political spin in the 40 days of coalition talks, allowing Bayit Yehudi to get its hands in almost every influential area of the government.
Bennett could justifiably be considered the architect of the new government, conceiving the final compromise that led to a breakthrough Wednesday night: Yesh Atid gets Education, Likud gets Interior, Hatnua’s deal remains as is.
The Bayit Yehudi leader drove to his “brother” Lapid’s Tel Aviv home in jeans and a T-shirt, convincing him to accept his deal.
“Even if it brings a new election, I made a commitment, and I won’t back out,” he promised Lapid, but also pointed out that dragging out talks doesn’t help anyone.
Lapid agreed, Bennett called Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, and the rest is history.
A coalition is on the way and Bennett’s party is en route to having a major influence on policy.
First, we have the economy. Though Bennett did not receive the Finance Ministry he so coveted, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry is the key place to pass a law to lower market concentration, which he touted throughout the campaign. He even changed the name of his portfolio to the Economic and Trade Ministry in order to get credit for reforms he is sure he will bring. On top of that, Bayit Yehudi has the uber-influential Knesset Finance Committee, which has the political cache and power of a ministry.
Second, we have settlement construction.
MK Uri Ariel will be the housing and construction minister, which means not only can he implement the party’s policy to lower housing prices, he can work toward building thousands of new homes over the Green Line.
Next, there’s religion. MK Eliahu Ben- Dahan is going to be deputy religious services minister with no minister above him (Bennett holds the portfolio, but plans to give Ben-Dahan free rein).
In other words, he’s the minister, with a lower salary and less staff. However, he has more responsibilities now, as conversion issues, yeshivot, burial societies and the Chief Rabbinate will all be under his authority. He’ll be able to overthrow the haredi monopoly in all those areas.
If that’s not enough to make the haredi parties angry, Bayit Yehudi will also lead a committee to draft a bill requiring the ultra-Orthodox to enlist or do civilian service.
Of course the haredi press is cursing Bennett now, but they forget that he first offered Shas an alliance like the one he has with Lapid, and was rejected.
Plus, Bayit Yehudi sided with Likud Beytenu in working to make the agreement on equality for the burden in national service less drastic, and more “liveable” for the haredim. “You’re my brothers,” he said in a YouTube video meant to calm down the wave of vitriol from the haredim, which didn’t quite work.
As for his other “brother” Netanyahu, it looks like they mostly patched up their relationship – unless you believe some nasty rumors about the prime minister’s wife standing in the way. The two reportedly speak to each other in English, as in the “good old days” when Bennett was Netanyahu’s employee.
Let’s face it, Mishal probably owes Bennett a lifetime supply of felafel. It’s understandable why the reporter thought he’d win the bet, but the Bayit Yehudi leader is a political underdog who made it bigger than many would have believed possible.