Search and Hit Enter

Bennett’s Media Blitz Reveals PM’s post-Netanyahu Strategy

Seven and a half months into his term as prime minister, Naftali Bennett gave a series of interviews for the weekend newspapers and managed the impressive feat of not delivering any policy headlines whatsoever.

In the six interviews, he spoke about all the policy areas – Iran, COVID, the Palestinians and the economy – but said absolutely nothing new about any of them. These were political, not policy, interviews in which Bennett gave the first indication of what he plans to do in 18 months’ time when he’s no longer prime minister.

In every interview, Bennett insisted that he had specifically chosen to speak to the public through the media while the Omicron wave was still close to its peak, rather than doing the easy thing and waiting a few more weeks until the expected dip in cases and hospitalizations, because he wanted to explain his government’s strategy to the public. But if that really was the thinking, why not do it a month ago when public uncertainty and despair were much deeper?

More likely, the timing was due to the lull in talks over his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu’s possible plea deal.

Netanyahu can’t sign a deal until a new Attorney General has been appointed. And with this hiatus in the speculation over the Likud leader’s political future, Bennett had an opportunity to interject and try to change the accepted narrative that, without Netanyahu around, his disparate governing coalition won’t have much of an incentive to stick together.

He repeated the same message: Likud is undergoing a period of toxic turmoil that won’t end anytime soon, even if Netanyahu leaves the scene, and the coalition partners don’t have any appetite to go backward. At least that’s what Bennett insisted. But he was caught off guard by Nachum Barnea, who got him to admit in his Yedioth Ahronoth interview that there were those in the coalition who felt it may have already served its purpose.

This was Bennett’s purpose: to try to convince readers that his government, with all its contradictions and obstacles, is still viable. And that he remains viable not just at the current prime minister but perhaps as a future one as well. However, that will be almost as difficult as replacing Netanyahu and becoming prime minister in the first place.

Bennett is still haunted by his predecessor. In his two previous rounds of media interviews since coming to office – to the local television and radio channels, and the handful he gave to foreign media – he tried to avoid mentioning Netanyahu altogether.

This time around, he was more open to discussing him – especially the smear campaigns Netanyahu’s proxies have launched against him on social media, including the most recent allegation that his mother, Myrna, is Catholic.

Bennett made clear that he holds Netanyahu directly responsible for orchestrating these smears. (In his interview with Haaretz’s Yossi Verter, he spoke in detail about how Netanyahu had personally threatened to do this before Bennett formed the government.)

There was a reason Bennett, who claims to have a thick skin, is going into this now: he has settled on a long-term political strategy of his own.

Despite some pundits’ predictions that Bennett would move to the center, he is now trying to redefine the “national camp,” insisting in all the interviews that he is still a staunch right-winger and that the post-Netanyahu nationalist base he is building will be “built on a direction, not on a man.”

He chose to do three of his interviews with right-wing newspapers – Israel Hayom, Makor Rishon and the Jerusalem Post – and talked up his achievements in that field:

… the plan to double the number of Israelis living on the Golan Heights; standing up to the Biden administration on the reopening of the Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem; and preventing diplomatic talks with the Palestinian Authority. (He insists that the meetings his ministers have had with Palestinian counterparts were not on “diplomatic” matters.)

He sidestepped his still-dismal standing in the polls with clichés like “I’m not sitting with a stopwatch” and “I’m not looking for quick victories.” The polls clearly frustrate him – he’s a politician – but he’s also pragmatic and realizes that it will take time for the right wing to recalibrate and settle down in the post-Netanyahu era.

As difficult as it is, Bennett is trying to draw a line beneath the Netanyahu era and lay the foundations for a new Israeli right. In his interview with Maariv’s Ben Caspit, he didn’t deny that there would probably be a merger of the anti-Netanyahu right-wing parties in the next election. However, he acted coyly when asked who would lead that new party.

Bennett’s new right isn’t obsessed with leaders and, as he made clear, it would be much more inclusive than Bezalel Smotrich’s far-right Religious Zionism party, which according to Bennett is neither religious nor Zionist.

Over a quarter of Bennett’s term is over, and he also made clear that he is still committed to handing over to Yair Lapid in August 2023. Until then, he wants to maintain what he described to Israel Hayom’s Moria Kor as “a government without dramas,” one in which all eight parties with their very different agendas can deliver for their specific constituencies.

He seems content for now to be a short-term prime minister who, as he claims, “saved Israel from spiraling into the chaos of fifth and sixth elections,” which could have jeopardized the Jewish state’s very survival. But he’s still only 49, with young children who are suffering his absence, so he won’t mind having to leave the top job next year. He will then embark on his new mission: to rebuild Israeli nationalism.

Source: Anshel Pfeffer – HAARETZ

Header: Bennett at the prime minister’s office in JerusalemCredit: Emil Salman