Will talk of 'sacred duty' to return Gaza hostages

Bennett speech to send message of cooperation to US, oppose return to Iran deal

In remarks before the proposed government’s swearing-in, the PM-designate’s office says he’ll praise Biden for backing Israel against Hamas; will also stress commitment to Haredim

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett speaks from the rostrum in the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool/Flash90)
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett speaks from the rostrum in the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool/Flash90)

In a speech to the Knesset plenum before lawmakers vote Sunday on confirming the “change government,” Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett’s message to the United States will be “positive and one of cooperation,” his office said.

Bennett, who heads the right-wing Yamina party, is expected to thank US President Joe Biden for supporting Israel during last month’s military conflict with the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

However, his office said he will also express staunch opposition to an American return to the 2015 nuclear deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, maintaining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish stance toward Tehran, though parties that have spoken about keeping disagreements with the US behind closed doors will represent an overwhelming majority at the cabinet table.

Bennett’s speech is scheduled to take place when the Knesset session to vote on the proposed government kicks off at 4 p.m.

US President Joe Biden speaks ahead of the G-7 summit in St. Ives, England, June 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

He will also reach out the families of two Israeli citizens being held in Gaza by Hamas, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, and those of two soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, whose bodies the terrorist organization is believed to be holding, stressing his commitment to returning them to Israel.

“I raised my hand in the cabinet during the vote in which we sent Hadar and Oron to fight for us in Operation Protective Edge. I see their return as a sacred duty, which must be done with responsibility,” Bennett is set to say.

Clockwise from top left: Oron Shaul, Avera Mengistu, Hadar Goldin and Hisham al-Sayed (Flash 90/Courtesy)

He is likewise expected to extend a hand to ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews, assuring them that the new government is committed to them even though the Haredi parties in Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc have ruled out joining the coalition and staunchly opposed its formation.

He will also likely mention the deadly crush earlier this year during Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron in which 45 worshipers were killed, the worst peacetime disaster in Israel’s history. The prospective government has vowed to set up an official state commission of inquiry into the tragedy, whose victims were mainly Haredi Jews.

On Friday, Channel 12 news reported that Bennett plans to use the speech to praise Netanyahu and thank him for his service to the country, despite the bad blood between them.

Then-defense minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting of right-wing parties, on March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While Netanyahu has spent the past several weeks disparaging Bennett for forming a “dangerous” government, the Yamina chief will not criticize the Likud leader and will adopt a conciliatory approach, the network said.

Bennett will also seek to reassure the public that the new, eight-party government will work for all segments of society, including those that have not supported his decision to build a coalition with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and more left-leaning parties as well as the Islamist party Ra’am, according to the television report.

If confirmed, the unlikely alliance of right-wing, left-wing, centrist and Islamist parties will remove Netanyahu from power after 12 consecutive years, to be replaced by Bennett, and, two years later, Lapid. Its swearing-in hangs on a single vote, with 61 of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers expected to back the fragile political alliance.

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