Naftali Bennett set to be Israel's powerbroker after election

Jan 22, 2013

The rise of the right-wing software entrepreneur has worrying consequences for Israel, critics say

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ISRAELI politics has a new "rock star" in the shape of Naftali Bennett, the software entrepreneur and former IDF commando who has revitalised the Jewish Home party, the Daily Telegraph says. But while Bennett and his right wing party are tipped for "stunning success" at today's general election, critics fear his determination to block a Palestinian state at all costs will "enrage Arabs" and risk "international isolation" for Israel.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party and its coalition partner, the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, are in electoral "free fall". A recent poll suggests they are set to win just 34 seats in the next Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

The big winner from today's election is likely to be Bennett, the 40-year-old son of American immigrants, who is set to be installed as either a "formidable opposition leader" or a partner in a coalition government pushing "a set of far Right policies," the Telegraph's Nick Meo says. Those policies will "enrage Palestinians" and "risk a breakdown in Israel's already strained alliance with America".

The New Yorker's David Remnick says Bennett is eager to "advertise his cosmopolitan bona fides" despite his conservative politics. He lives, not in a settlement, but a small, affluent city north of Tel Aviv and often speaks fondly of his time living in Manhattan where he made his fortune as a software entrepreneur.

But Bennett's affection for America does not mean he agrees with the White House's more conciliatory stance in regard to a Palestinian state. He has an "unswerving conviction" that Palestinians "might as well relinquish their hopes for a sovereign state", writes Remnick, and firmly believes the Green Line, that divides the occupied territories from Israel "has no meaning".

Bennett's anticipated success in the election will be proof that "a fresh and charismatic new face can even redeem a political cadaver" like the Jewish Home party, says the Jerusalem Post. His problems will "start tomorrow" when his party – "now a patchwork of rigorously religious, loosely observant and fully secular people" – has to "actually do things together". But that's tomorrow, the paper says. For now, the man the Independent calls a "Zionist pin-up" can reasonably look forward to basking in the glory of electoral success.

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