Out of the four players who could conceivably exit the upcoming election as Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett has been treated by the media as the least likely. On the surface level, this is an understandable analysis. Netanyahu’s Likud is expected to win the most seats by a large margin, Lapid’s Yesh Atid is consolidating what’s left of the Israeli left, and Gideon Sa’ar is a media golden-boy. Bennett’s Yamina, however, is polling at 10-15 seats, consistently below the other three parties, a far cry from its summer highs of 20-25 seats.
This is a surface-level analysis that ignores a key factor of Israeli politics; coalition making, a task in which Netanyahu, Lapid, and Sa’ar have severely handicapped themselves. Netanyahu has alienated every party outside of the religious sector. Bibi would need to pull out his greatest political trick to pull in a party or parties who have already announced they would not seek to join his government into a governing coalition. On the flip side, Lapid has alienated all the religious parties, limiting his conceivable options to other leftwing parties, numbers which will not add up to 61. Sa’ar, polling consistently behind Lapid and ruling out any coalition under or alongside Netanyahu or with the Religious Zionist Party, meaning he would have to weigh heavy concessions to every single leftwing party, including most likely a power-sharing agreement with Lapid, against political suicide, a lose-lose situation I would not wish on anyone.
Bennett, however, has left his political options flexible while keeping his values strong, paving several paths towards the premiership. Without getting into any specifics, Bennett, in his prudence, can capture the premiership in a handful of different ways through either a broad unity government or a narrow religious-right coalition with the religious parties and Netanyahu. Lapid and Sa’ar have shrouded themselves in a cloud of political toxicity, leaving Bennett a viable candidate, perhaps the only viable candidate, to pull a broad unity government together. For the narrow option, Netanyahu needs Bennett more than Bennett needs Netanyahu, meaning Bennett can squeeze the premiership away from Bibi in return for his political survival.
The fact that all these paths are still available are a testament to Bennett’s greatest political virtue; prudence. Bennett’s cool-headed demeanor has prevented him from taking the bait that Netanyahu, Lapid, and Sa’ar have fallen prey to, that of headline-chasing, strong words, division, and alienation.
Not only is Bennett’s prudence politically useful, it is a new, necessary kind of leadership today’s Israel desperately needs. Perhaps the most glaring issue today is not corona, the economy, or national security, but domestic unrest. The Haredi riots in the past month and the Ethiopian protests during the summer of 2019 expose groups of Israeli Jews who feel unwelcome, a third column in their rightful homeland for one reason or another. This is an unacceptable reality. Israel needs Naftali Bennett’s unique prudence, his unwillingness to pit Jew against Jew whether on religious, ethnic, or political grounds, his uniting leadership ability to overcome this sinat chinam, this baseless hatred, and avert disaster for Israel.
Whether or not Bennett descends to the premiership right now is almost irrelevant. Bennett has showcased that his political ability is lightyears ahead of his competition. Voters see this and will reward him now, at least doubling Yamina’s six-seat mandate from the last election. As Bennett’s political skill continues to translate to political accomplishments, voters will reward him even more. This election has seen Naftali Bennett rise from a limb of the Netanyahu political machine to a political force in his own right, and this is only the beginning.