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EXPLAINED| Who is Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new leader?

A former leader of a terrorist settler group, who is infamous for making incendiary comments about the Palestinians

Naftali Bennett was sworn in to be Israel’s new prime minister on Sunday, after winning a confidence vote with the narrowest of margins, just 60 votes to 59. His victory ends a 12-year grip on power by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader.

Naftali Bennett is easily labeled – religious hard-liner, ultranationalist, settler leader, high-tech millionaire, and special-forces operative.

He served in an elite Israeli military unit before becoming a hi-tech millionaire by selling an anti-fraud software company to a US security firm for $145m (£102m) in 2005.

So, who is Neftali Bennett?

Proud murderer

The hardline religious nationalist, once the head of a prominent Jewish settler group and now Israel’s next prime minister, is open about his past.

A report by the Hebrew-language print edition of Yedioth Ahronoth had cited Bennett as boasting about killing “lost of native Palestinians”.

“If you catch terrorists, you have to simply kill them,” he added, supporting killing Palestinian political detainees.

The number two on Bennett’s party list, Yamina, Ayelet Shaked, has called for genocide of Palestinians. She posted on Facebook saying “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy” and justifies its destruction, “including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.” She calls for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes.”

Only one day after Shaked’s facebook post, Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khudair was kidnapped and burned alive by six Israeli settlers.

In 2018, when peaceful Palestinians rallied at the Gaza frontier and were met with lethal force, Bennett said Israeli troops should have a “shoot to kill” policy, including for minors.

“I would not allow terrorists to cross the border from Gaza every day,” he said. Asked about the army targeting children, he replied: “They are not children. They are terrorists. We are fooling ourselves.”

Supporting illegal settlement and apartheid

Bennett was born in occupied Haifa in 1972. His parents were settler colonizers, who came from San Francisco to Palestine in 1967.

A video posted on his YouTube official page, detailing Bennett’s plan, shows support for the annexation of most of the occupied West Bank, which it argues is essential not only for security reasons, allowing hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers to remain there, but also because ‘Israel’ wants control over its water resources.

The proposal, based on a seven-point plan Bennett released in 2012, would squeeze most West Bank Palestinians into urban enclaves with limited control over their lives. A few tens of thousands would be granted Israeli citizenship, to “counter any claims of apartheid”, the document states.

People in the geographically separate West Bank and Gaza Strip would not be allowed a “connection” to each other, for fear of bringing “the violence, instability and problems” of Gaza into the West Bank.

Finally, the proposal makes clear that Palestinians would never be able to create a state in the West Bank, over which Israel would maintain “complete security control”.

Regarding peace with the Palestinian Authority, the same video presents a colourfully animated account of the far-right politician’s plan, with a lighthearted tone that belies its deeply serious message.

“There are some things that we all know will never happen,” says a narrator in a carefree voice. “The Sopranos will never return for another season … And a peace agreement with the Palestinians will not happen.”

In an interview with the Guardian in 2017, Bennett said there would not be a Palestinian state on his watch. “It’s just not going to happen. A Palestinian state would be a disaster for the next 200 years.”

As education minister, Bennett supported a law used to ban groups critical of the armed forces or the state from entering schools and speaking to students. “Anyone who wanders around the world attacking soldiers will not enter a school,” Bennett said when the bill passed.

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