Pragmatism will determine Naftali Bennett’s premiership

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (source: The New York Times)

Last year, I had the tremendous privilege of obtaining an exclusive interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Despite a busy schedule, he accepted in the last couple of days to answer a few questions about the designation of Naftali Bennett as 13th Prime Minister of the country. I always appreciate his straightforward style.

Here is therefore the content of our exchange.

Mr. Olmert, what are your personal impressions of Prime Minister Bennett? Do you know him personally and what are your first impressions upon his designation?

I am very happy that Naftali Bennett was sworn in as Prime Minister. I know him, of course, and I think that he is a worthy person. Obviously, he doesn’t have a longtime experience considering his short time in national politics. But how experienced was President Obama when he was elected President?

What are the main qualities he and his partners are bringing to the table?

Naftali Bennett is a very successful high-tech entrepreneur and has been quite effective as a politician. He showed a great degree of determination and perseverance in his recent political battles. He, [foreign minister] Lapid, [defense minister] Gantz and [minister of justice] Saar are a new generation of political leaders. Younger, dynamic and very ambitious. I hope that they will be flexible enough to manage as partners, in spite of their different agendas, and focus on the rehabilitation of our economy and social needs as a result of the COVID-19 crises.

I was impressed to see a right-wing politician like Naftali Bennett sign a deal with Islamist Party Head Mansour Abbas. A tangible sign that Israel is a real democracy. Does it give you hope for the future and for peace?

The inclusion of the Arab party is very significant and may signal a dramatic change in the status of Arabs in the life of our country. The time has come for it.

After four elections in a short span of time, are you hopeful that this government will last?

It’s too early to offer a prediction about the stability of the new cabinet, considering the huge differences amongst the partners in this coalition. But it is certainly a turning point in Israel’s politics. I hope that we will now concentrate in dealing with our domestic issues. I personally trust the friendship of President Biden and am certain that the new government will improve our relations with his administration.

Do you think soon-to-be former Prime Minister Netanyahu might attempt a comeback?

Bibi’s future is uncertain, but my personal impression is that he will have to focus on his legal difficulties and will not be able to come back.

Thank you very much for the generosity of your time, Mr. Olmert.

________________

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert memoirs Rise and Fall: My Past and Israel’s Future will be published in English next January by the Brookings Institution.

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