Naftali Bennett's Anti-Palestinian State Agenda Risks Joe Biden's Ire

New right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has expressed opposition to a Palestinian state and staunchly advocated for settlements and annexation. This record may pose a challenge for U.S. President Joe Biden's plans for a two-state solution.

Since taking office, Biden has made a point of undoing many unorthodox foreign policy decisions issued by his predecessor Donald Trump. This included unfreezing over $200 million in aid and expanding outreach to the Palestinians, while pledging to unwaveringly support Israel. The Biden administration was placed in a particularly awkward position when hostilities flared between Israel and the Palestinians last month.

Biden said he remains committed to a two-state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state. This could lead to some friction with Bennett, who has long spurned such concepts. Before his premiership, Bennet—widely described as a religious ultra-nationalist—had written off the idea of a Palestinian state as "suicide." Upon Trump's election in 2016, Bennett said: "The era of a Palestinian state is over." He also once publicly advised then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to mention the words "two-state solution" during talks with Trump.

Bennett has praised Trump's steadfast pro-Israel policies, including the much-touted Middle East Peace Plan—formulated without Palestinian input or agreement—that included recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and attributing Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

As Netanyahu saw an opportunity to annex parts of the West Bank under Trump's plan, then-Defense Minister Bennett expressed haste: "The building momentum in the country must not be stopped, even for a second."

However, these plans were suspended amid U.S.-brokered normalization agreements between Israel and a number of Arab countries—a series of Trump White House deals also praised by Bennett.

A supporter of settlements in the West Bank, Bennett at one point led the Yesha Council, which represents settlements. In 2010, Bennett threatened to withdraw the organization's support from Netanyahu if he honored a request by Barack Obama's administration to extend a freeze on settlement construction amid peace talks.

In the past, Bennett has pushed for the annexation of Israeli-controlled Area C in the West Bank, which constitutes approximately 60 percent of the territory and contained at least 463,000 settlers as of 2019. Biden has expressed opposition against expanding settlements on Palestinian territory, activity deemed illegal under international law.

After Trump lost the 2020 presidential election to Biden, Bennett expressed gratitude towards the former president's controversial policy record in the Middle East. Amid a list of perceived accomplishments from the former administration, Bennett said Trump "brought [Israel] peace without giving up land" and "made it clear the focus of the region is not the Palestinians."

"Thank you President Trump, on behalf of the Israeli people," Bennett tweeted. "You will always be remembered as [a] true friend of the state of Israel. You took truly revolutionary steps in the fortification of Israel's existence."

However, Bennett was also the first prominent right-wing Israeli politician to congratulate Biden on his win in 2020, notably doing so before close Trump ally Netanyahu.

Biden in turn recently congratulated Bennett on his new position, stating he looked forward to "working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations."

But after 12 years in power, Netanyahu is refusing to exit quietly, instead attempting to take a match to both leaders' budding ties. In a 35-minute speech attacking Bennett on the Knesset floor, an incensed Netanyahu claimed the White House is "already demanding" Israel freeze settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He also railed against a U.S. decision to reopen its consulate in East Jerusalem, which would be geared towards Palestinians.

Naftali Bennett attends Knesset session
Head of Israel's right-wing Yamina party Naftali Bennett attends a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. Bennett, now Israel's new prime minister, has been described as ultra-nationalist. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images