Education Minister and chairman of the New Right, Naftali Bennet is hoping to become the Defense Minister in the next Knesset. According to mid-week polls that show his party winning only five or six Knesset seats, it's doubtful that he'll achieve his goal but Bennett is not conceding anything yet.
In an interview with Arutz Sheva, Bennett revealed for the first time that his interest in the Defense Ministry stems not only from his desire to find a solution for the Hamas problem, but is also motivated by his wish to dismantle the Civil Administration.
"We very much want to take responsibility for the Defense Ministry for two reasons," Bennett said. "One reason is to enable the IDF to be victorious and the second reason relates to the settlements. In practice, the defense minister is the prime minister of the settlements through the Civil Administration for almost every issue - permits, the state's responses to the High Court of Justice, and more," Bennett explained.
"The ministers who were active until today were either hostile to the settlements like [former defense minister] Ehud Barak, or had a positive view of the settlements but weren't efficient like [former defense minister Moshe] Ya'alon, or were indifferent like [former defense minister Avigdor] Liberman."
"I'm very interested in the settlements and the efforts on this issue is divided into two main directions. There is the political arena where pivotal decisions are made and we need to pressure Netanyahu and the United States. We know how to do this and are doing it. At the same time, there is also the reality of daily life which requires hundreds of small decisions that ultimately affect half a million Israelis living in Judea and Samaria. It's possible to forge ahead with this area without sweeping political changes."
How is it possible to forge ahead? What changes are you referring to?
"I want to close the Civil Administration in everything related to the treatment of Israeli citizens in Judea and Samaria, I'm not referring to their role in dealing with the Arabs and everything connected with Gaza. My focus is the half a million civilians in Area C who are currently receiving services from the Civil Administration. I want to transfer this entire responsibility to my office. This would be a far-reaching change that ultimately is a plan for the normalization of half a million Israeli citizens. It wouldn't be a full annexation yet which is definitely our goal and we'll achieve that in accordance with our political power. This is a plan that we want to include and put into action immediately during coalition agreements."
And what will you do with the Palestinian Arabs who are not in PA territory? You'll have to provide a solution for them as well.
"There will be a body that will provide them with excellent services. But ultimately, when we attain full annexation, that too will have to be administered by the government ministries."
It sounds a little naive.
"I don't think it's naive. We've proven that we know how to turn around the world order. Something that has been acceptable for 30 years - that terrorists are occasionally released in gestures or deals - from the moment I put an end to it in an ultimatum at the end of 2014 - when Kerry tried to advance a diplomatic process, not even one terrorist has been released."
"In 2013, we were on a fast track to a Palestinian state. The prime minister announced it and we stopped it. The situation today is very different and it's possible to change reality. There are numerous small issues that plague the half a million residents of Judea and Samaria and we're proposing to solve the problems from the bottom up."
"In the past six years, I've learned that every big thing seems impossible until you do it, I don't think we'll have a better time than this era of Trump's presidency and right-wing government. If we get five or six seats, it won't happen. If we win 10 or 11 seats, it will happen. If we receive the Ministry of Defense, the laws applying to the residents of Judea and Samaria will be the same as lawful citizens of Israel."
Looking back, you enacted the Regulation Law but the regulation itself is proceeding very slowly.
"In the first stage, Shaked initiated a revolution in everything regarding the state's responses to the High Court of Justice to ensure that areas like Amona or Netiv Ha'avot will not be returned. Today, the government is already giving other answers, like what happened in Mitzpeh Kramim. At the same time, we regulate many things through market regulation. But the situation is still a band-aid. I want to correct the problem from the ground up and achieve normalization. We have another demand - of course, according to the power we receive - that all the reforms that Shaked will initiate will have to be supported by all the coalition elements, similar to what Netanyahu did in the field of communications. This means that not only will there be no right of veto but there will be an obligation to support the reforms."
You really want to be defense minister, but the defense minister needs to work well with the prime minister, and it's no secret that your relationship is not particularly a smooth one.
"I think that the difference between my predecessors and me is the resolve to initiate action in the Cabinet. The security establishment needs to be shaken up. It's become very sluggish and hesitant. They approach Netanyahu without any good operational proposals. When I presented the plan to destroy the tunnels in Operation Protective Edge, Ya'alon and Gantz opposed it. Netanyahu was on the fence. There was a kind of tug-of-war in the end, and ultimately I prevailed. They're not bad people or untalented, but the difference is in the attitude. The security establishment needs a victorious attitude, a spirit of Jewish Zionism, but the main thing is to hold our heads high. For years, the officers who dared to do so were thrown to the side."
From a look at the polls, maybe the step you took in forming the New Right didn't pay off?
"From the beginning, I said that the establishment of the New Right would increase the mass of the right-wing parties. In the past four years, we had eight Knesset seats. Currently, if we're together with the right-wing parties, it will be 12-13 seats or even more. We also considered the votes that would be lost due to Otzma Yehudit, as well as the votes of secular people who would vote for Kahlon, Blue and White or Likud. We brought a great gift to the right-wing bloc. If we stayed together, secular people wouldn't join a party of national-religious and the national-religious wouldn't join Bennett's party. The most dangerous thing for the country is a huge Likud. The bottom line is that the right-wing bloc had 58 seats before we formed the New Right, and since then the bloc is expected to have 63 seats for the entire duration of the election period."
You don't hide your ambition to be prime minister. Will you achieve this through the New Right or do you want to join the Likud in the future?
"Throughout the years, the Labor Party was the only ruling party on the left, and then Yair Lapid came along, and Blue and White, and changed the perception. We're striving for leadership on the day after Netanyahu but I don't aspire to join the Likud. Likud's political foundation is security. It's always possible to find solutions that involve withdrawing our territory. If your foundation is Jewish identity, then you don't give up an inch of the land of Israel to Sweden or Switzerland."
"This is my land and my home. Ultimately, it was the Likud that carried out the disengagement and handed over Hevron. I won't be surprised if the day after Netanyahu there will be an all-out war in the Likud. I aspire in the era after Netanyahu to be prime minister - yes, with a kippah. It's possible that for the first time in recent years there will be a defense minister in Israel with a kippah, an IDF chief of staff with a kippah and even a prime minister with a kippah."
According to the polls, Shaked is more popular than you. Maybe she should be the head of the party in order to maximize her popularity?
We looked into this. Shaked is extremely popular and we try to transfer her popularity into votes. Our partnership is an ideological partnership. It's not that we don't have tactical disagreements but we've worked together successfully for 13 years and passed many tests together.