Naftali Bennett: From rookie to national leader

If he can enter the ranks of statesmen, Bennett could transform politics in Israel and recast some politicians as statesmen as well.

NAFTALI BENNETT – his character holds a truly promising advantage: he doesn’t hate.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
NAFTALI BENNETT – his character holds a truly promising advantage: he doesn’t hate.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
This writer has watched Yamina Party chairman Naftali Bennett rise from a would-be politician to the potential role of national leader. Now I believe that – with foresight and courage – he can enter the ranks of statesmen. In doing so, Bennett could transform politics in Israel and recast some politicians as statesmen as well.
There are many definitions of statesman. Mine is two-part: a statesman or stateswoman is a person who focuses on the main problems of her or his country and who unifies his/her people to face and overcome them.
Bennett has taken the first step. In an interview in Makor Rishon, the national-religious newspaper, he identified the coronavirus as Israel’s central challenge, and therefore called for a moratorium on expanding Israel rule over Judea and Samaria. If Bennett, as the leading national politician, would take this one step further, quite possibly he could become the next prime minister of Israel and bear the mantle of statesman, welcome and respected in every capital of the world.
The principle is simple: a two-year moratorium on sectoral politics. That means setting five major unifying goals:
- To defeat the coronavirus invasion
- To restore the economy and raise up those who were decimated financially by its deprivations
- To deal with the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis
- To renew the dialogue with the American administration
- To widen the circle of peace and fruitful relations with more Arab states in the Middle East and Muslim world.
- Finally, a limit to the terms a prime minister may serve.
A party that wishes to enter a “national coalition” must declare that divisive issues will be put aside for two years. The offer should embrace all parties except Meretz (by whatever name it chooses to call itself) and the Joint List on the far Left, and the far-right Kahanists and ilk, as well as the non-Zionist Ashkenazi haredim (ultra-Orthodox).
The major divisive issues to be put on ice would include, as Bennett has already stated, annexation of territory, and adding to that: changing the judicial system, preferential treatment of sectors (Judea and Samaria, haredim, political parties) to make sure the economic recovery covers all citizens and sectors and any other constitutional changes.
There must be a prior agreement by opposition leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, Interior Minister Arye Deri’s Shas and Bennett’s Yamina that they will nominate for prime minister the person from among them whose party garners the most votes. To put teeth into this, each party will need to submit a bank guarantee of at least NIS 500,000 or more to be deposited with an agreed-upon former Supreme Court justice or President Reuven Rivlin, who might by then have completed his term.
Where is the Likud in all of this? As long as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu controls every flicker of an eyebrow in the party leadership, the Likud is not a partner. The next few months will see where Netanyahu will be. Just as Mapai had to go into opposition to clean up its act, the time has come for Likud to do the same. And if there are courageous Revisionists left in the party who would splinter and join the grand coalition, they should indeed be welcome.
The devil is, of course, in the details. Nonetheless, if Bennett proposes this grand or national coalition, the other parties would be hard-pressed not to join. There is one possibly overriding problem. The second underlying principle for such a grand unifying coalition should be that people with judicial indictments against them cannot serve as ministers or as prime minister. There could be a serious difficulty regarding Deri, who is under investigation. However, at the pace the legal system works today, an election may precede such an indictment, making the matter moot.
“Pie in the sky?” Yes.
So was the Zionist dream. That took about 50 years to realize. With today’s hi-tech and communications, creating the grand coalition could take 50 days or fewer. And in the two preliminary years of the grand coalition, Bennett should become more a man of the people: grateful to his friends, statesman-like to his opponents, a leader showing social compassion and loyalty to the values of the prophets of our people.

The writer served in senior capacities in the offices of prime minister David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol, and earned his PhD degree at Columbia University. He taught courses in the history of Israel and Israeli politics in Israel, Canada and the US. He was world chairman of Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal for 10 years.