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Israel's new PM Naftali Bennett sworn in after 12 years of Netanyahu rule

Monday, June 14th 2021 - 09:32 UTC
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“In Iran today they are celebrating,” outgoing PM Netanyahu said. “In Iran today they are celebrating,” outgoing PM Netanyahu said.

Naftali Bennett Sunday became Israel's 13th prime minister, thus bringing an end to 12 years of rule by Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party.

The leader of the ultra-nationalist Yamina party was ratified this Sunday as chief executive in a vote that validated the definitive creation of a new Cabinet

Bennett's political career is associated with religious ultra-nationalism, a heavy-handed speech against Palestinians, the defence of the Israeli annexation of the occupied West Bank and economic neoliberalism.

After a complex pact without historical precedent between eight parties from almost the entire political spectrum, Bennett was ratified this Sunday as a new Cabinet was validated. Bennett will be Prime Minister for the first two years when he is due to be replaced by the centrist Yair Lapid.

Born in the city of Haifa in 1972 to a Jewish family emigrated from the United States, the new prime minister was a close associate of Netanyahu, under whom he served as Minister of Defense and also of Education.

With his head crowned with a kippah (Jewish skullcap), Bennett is a religion of the moderate line, military on the reserve and a former billionaire businessman with an ideological profile more right-wing than Netanyahu's. His party, Yamina, won seven seats in the March elections.

He will lead an Executive of wide ideological diversity, even antithetical also made up of groups ranging from the left to the far right and even including an Arab Islamist party.

“For the Executive to be successful, we need all partners to act with restraint,” Bennett has said in a conciliatory tone, which he ratified Sunday in his speech before the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) after years of polarization with Netanyahu.

Although his government is in favour of a peace process with the Palestinians, he has vowed “not to hand over territories,“ about the West Bank and East Jerusalem for which he is ready to launch a military operation ”if necessary.“

Bennett insisted that ”I hope that the ceasefire“ in force with the Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip ”is maintained.“ However, if the latter ”chooses to use violence“ against Israel, ”it will hit a wall of steel,“ he warned Sunday.

In 1990 Bennett entered mandatory service as a soldier and rose to the commander in one of the country's most prestigious fighting forces, the elite Sayeret Matkal unit. It is not a unique case: other leaders, such as Netanyahu himself or former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, have also gone through it previously.

In his business life, at the age of 26, Bennett founded a high-tech startup dedicated to anti-fraud and became a millionaire by selling it in 2005 for 145 million US dollars.

In 2006 he returned to the Army to participate in the Second Lebanon War. He entered politics as a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, with whom he was an advisor and close aide for 16 months, until 2008. However, despite the initial chemistry, disagreements and enmity between the two grew until they severed all ties.

Between 2010 and 2012, Bennett was director-general of Yesha, a body that brings together the West Bank settler leaders. He also founded the ultra-nationalist collective ”Israel Shelí” (My Israel) with Ayelet Shaked, another iconic right-wing leader who has been its number two to date.

After the 2013 elections, both entered Parliament for the first time with the Habait Hayehudí (Jewish Home) party, which was the fourth force after a campaign in which it presented a nationalist and militarist message with a modern tone and an innovative communication strategy based on media and social networks such as YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.

Since then, with his neat image and impeccable English that also projected him internationally, Bennett defended the old ideas of the more extreme right, such as the resounding rejection of the creation of a Palestinian state, the expansion of colonies or the annexation of two-thirds of Occupied West Bank, a project that Netanyahu himself wanted to launch last year, but was put on hold.

However, the ultra-nationalist will have to moderate his stances to head a heterogeneous government that will end the “prolonged division” in Israel or open “a new chapter” in relations with the Arab-Israeli population, as he assured Sunday. Unlike other Israeli political leaders, Bennett does not live in a settlement, but in Raanana, a wealthy town near Tel Aviv.

Knesset's new president Miki Levy was also sworn on Sunday. But the festive airs were cut when unleashed opposition interrupted Bennett throughout his speech and Netanyahu even mocked him by announcing that he will “takedown” this “dangerous” executive as soon as possible.

The new prime minister showed firm nerves by staying calm for more than half an hour amid uproar and screaming. And he perfectly portrayed the situation when he ordered the opposition to “stop the chaos”, promising that he will be the one to “put an end to a terrible period of hatred among the people of Israel.”

“This laceration, which has been fraying our social fabric - he denounced - has led us to one election after another and to a spiral of hatred and quarrels between brothers.”

Bennett was portrayed by his opponents as a traitor for bringing on an Arab Party to his coalition and the atmosphere reached a point where Lapid, the centrist leader who according to the pacts will pick up Bennett's baton at the end of August 2023, gave up speaking: it would have been, he said, completely useless. Bennett's words of praise for his former ally and mentor Netanyahu at the opening of his speech were worthless.

Netanyahu insisted on pointing out the difference of votes for Likud against those for Yamina. When Bennett made it clear Israel “will not allow Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu mocked him: “I'm worried about what Bennett just said,” because “he usually does the opposite of what he says” also about Bennett's new partnership with Lapid, someone with whom Bennett had said he would never ally.

“In Iran today they are celebrating,” Netanyahu added. “The moment the United States returns to the nuclear agreement with Iran – Netanyahu went on - the future Israeli government will not authorize new secret activities in Iran. He is not worthy of remaining in office for one day.”

In Tel Aviv Square thousands celebrated throughout the night, while on Saturday about 2,000 protesters gathered in front of Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence chanting ”Goodbye Bibi.”

Categories: Politics, International.

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