In a historic coalition agreement Wednesday, Naftali Bennett partnered with opposition leader Yair Lapid to form a new Israeli government.
If the coalition is approved by Israel’s parliament in a majority vote, Bennett will oust Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister – ending his 12-year reign.
What to know about Bennett
Bennett 49, was born in Haifa, Israel, to American Jewish immigrants in 1972. He lived in the United States for a brief period as a child and like Netanyahu, speaks fluent English, according to Reuters.
Like most Israelis, Bennett served in the military, in a reconnaissance unit as a squad and company commander.
By 1999 he cofounded an anti-fraud software company Cyota and moved to New York. He later sold the business to an American company for $145 million. He also served as the CEO of Soluto, a device protection company that sold for $100 million.
He now lives in the city of Raanana, an affluent suburb of Tel Aviv, with his wife and four children.
He was a former ally of Netanyahu
Bennett entered the political arena in 2005 serving as a senior aide to Netanyahu.
By 2012 he entered the Israeli parliament, better known as the Knesset, under the National Religious Party.
The technology-millionaire-turned politician rose quickly in his eight years as a lawmaker, maneuvering his way to the top under the Yamina party – a small group representing just seven of 120 seats in the Israeli parliament.
The former elite commando reportedly named his first son after Netanyahu’s brother, Yoni, who was killed in a 1976 Israeli rescue mission to save hijacked passengers at Uganda’s Entebbe airport.
He served as Minister of Defense, Minister of Education, and Minister of Economy in Netanyahu’s government.
Though Bennett’s announcement in support of Lapid’s coalition government was viewed by Netanyahu as a betrayal to Israel’s right-wing parties, the two shared a rocky relationship, reported Reuters.
Netanyahu condemned Bennett’s decision as deceptive and accused him of deserting his nationalistic principles “in order to be prime minister at any price,” calling it the “fraud of the century.”
But in a nationally televised address, Bennett said he would “form a national unity government” with Lapid in order to “save the country from a tailspin and return Israel to its course.”
Where he stands Israeli-Palestinian relations
Before running for public office, Bennett headed the Yesha Council, the leading Israeli settler movement in the West Bank, which was captured during the 1967 Six-Day War and which Palestinians still contest as their territory, reported the Washington Post.
Bennett then reentered the political arena and made a name for himself by calling for settlements in the Palestinian territories along with the annexation of the West Bank.
He then helped form the New Right party in 2018, which now falls under his current Yamina Party affiliation and strongly opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Bennett has argued the West Bank is not illegally occupied by Israel because “there was never a Palestinian state” and alleged relations between Israel the Palestinian territories must be endured like “shrapnel in the buttocks.”
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Under the new coalition government, Bennett would serve as prime minister for the first two years, after which his coalition partner would then take over for the following two years.
The Israeli parliament is expected to vote on the coalition government by next week.