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Middle East

For all his bombast, Naftali Bennett is light on detail when it comes to Palestine or Iran

World focus

Slick, smooth, and polished are the three adjectives that came to mind when Naftali Bennett - the man of the moment in Israeli politics - took to the stage at a debate on Israeli foreign policy at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University today.

With just two weeks to go before the polls open in the country’s general election, the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party bounded on to the stage, and hinted it was all rather a waste of his time to take part in a discussion in front of the assembled foreign media and overseas diplomats; no voters to woo with his image of Israel, you see.

But the rhetoric, which has propelled him up the polls in recent weeks, was there in abundance. Talking about the existence of a “Jewish Spring” he claimed, probably correctly, that the real issues in this election were domestic – affordable housing, soaring prices and that, apparently, “the dormant desire to restore Jewish values to Israel is exploding”.

But even if he was slightly bored by the topic, he had plenty to say about the Palestinians to whom he would deny a state. “We are the only party that opposes founding a Palestinian state – the land of Israel stretches from Jordan to the Mediterranean. There is no perfect solution, but it is time that the international community took a fresh look at an old problem – right now we’re heading towards knowingly committing suicide.”

Mr Bennett, a 40-year-old entrepreneur-turned-politician, had the edge over his rivals from the off – his American-accented English carrying well to an international audience. But he also took advantage of the fact that several questions were addressed to him, specifically – and he unquestionably bullied the moderator into giving him more time to give his answers.

Two of his debate opponents, Labour’s Issac Herzog and the 68-year-old Yaakov Peri from the Yesh Atid, or Future Party, opposed Mr Bennett’s views on the Palestinians, with both stressing that a viable Palestinian state was the only way to secure Israel’s future. Tzachi Hanegbi, from the governing  Likud-Beiteinu, was less aggressive, but then his party may have to work with Mr Bennett in coalition after  the election.

For all his bombast, Mr Bennett is light on detail – he has few concrete foreign affairs policies and on perhaps the most salient for Israel  at the moment, the threat posed by  a potentially nuclear Iran, there  was almost nothing. “I don’t know enough,” he said. “I don’t have  the information but everything  is preferable to a nuclear Iran,  which would make Israel the  most dangerous place in the world for Jews.”