New Yesha Council director: I think beyond Netanyahu
Naftali Bennett, prime minister's former chief of staff, appointed to run central settlers' body but does not even live in settlement. 'There is a 20-year erosion of relations between the public and Judea and Samaria. Even if we win the battle with Netanyahu, someone else will come after him,' one of his associates
Up until two years ago, Naftali Bennett worked very closely with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the Likud chairman's chief of staff. Yet, as of today, he is positioned opposite him on the battlefront between the settlers and the government, which froze settlement building and will likely take more steps towards the Palestinians. However, it seems as though the new Yesha Council director is thinking beyond the prime minister.
"Even if Yesha fights Netanyahu, for instance, and successfully changes the cabinet decisions, someone else can come after him. Therefore, we need to make an important and significant change, and Bennett understands this very well," sayes a source close to the new director, who is replacing Pinchas Wallerstein.
According to them, Bennett does not plan on trying to topple the government, but to change the public's relationship with the settlers.
Bennett will take office only in another few weeks, but has already started thinking about the position. As of now, he has refused to be interviewed or to speak about the move he plans on leading in order to change the image of the Yesha Council among the Israeli public.
A source close to him noted, "He understands the large challenge facing him. There is a 20-year erosion in the public's relationship with Judea and Samaria. This is beyond just a tactic, beyond the struggle over a specific town."
Illegal outpost. Looking to restore public faith (Photo archive: AFP)
Bennett is not a resident of a West Bank settlement, making his appointment to the post a bit of an anomaly. However, the move is symbolic of the deep crisis within the public leadership living in the settlements.
On the one hand, vast portions of the public lost their faith in the Yesha Council following the disengagement because of their failed struggle, while other groups decided to break off from the umbrella organization and become more right-wing and to act independently. On the other hand, the people living on the other side of the Green Line are increasingly seen as a burden.
Bennet is expected to lead a process of deep introspection in order to change the picture. Among his first steps to change the image of the settlers, a public relations campaign is planned abroad with the objective of affecting public opinion in Israel.
"They did a lot of things right in the Yesha Council," Bennett told one of his associates before accepting the post. "Even surrounding the disengagement they acted correctly. The fact that it didn't succeed doesn't mean that it wasn't correct."
'Only sin: Not getting along with Sara'
After leaving the high-tech industry, Bennett decided he was interested in helping Netanyahu on his path back to power. Ultimately, this happened after he left Netanyahu's office in discord in 2008. He is considered a dependable and serious person.
According to a Likud source, "His only sin was not getting along with Sara Netanyahu (the prime minister's wife). He is a direct person and an idealist. At a certain point, he considered running for the Likud primaries."
Bennett himself issued a statement Sunday, saying ,"I see this position as an important mission, a large privilege to be a partner in the struggle to strengthen the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria. I thank the Yesha Council leadership for their faith in me."
The new director was chosen Sunday during a management meeting in the Yesha Council. Though he received a majority of the votes, he was not elected unanimously. Yesha Council Chairman Danny Dayan told Ynet: "We chose the most talented director that we could find, both with managerial competence and leadership competence – the person most capable of leading Yesha through the tasks before us."
Is the Yesha Council trying to change its veneer with the election of a secular chairman and now a director who does not living in the settlements? According to Dayan, there is no policy as such, but simply a desire to become more efficient. "I have represented the residents of Yesha in all their diversity for two-and-a-half years already. Naftali was elected to the executive post of director, and I recommended him," said the chairman.
Efrat Weiss contributed to this report