Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Wednesday evening that he will not run in the upcoming elections and will withdraw from political life.
Bennett will remain in the role of alternate prime minister once Foreign Minister Yair Lapid replaces him as prime minister, possibly as soon as Thursday if the Knesset finishes passing legislation to disperse itself.
The outgoing prime minister said his longtime political partner, Ayelet Shaked, would lead Yamina going forward.
In a poignant statement, Bennett expressed pride in his government’s achievements and urged the country to unite in order to preserve its achievements.
I will not run for the next elections, but I will remain a loyal soldier to this country that I served as a combat soldier, officer, minister, and prime minister. “Serving this country is my destiny,” Bennett said.
He continued, “I am ending more than a year as prime minister.” “Praise be to God, I leave behind a strong, secure and prosperous country. The government I presided over in a year did what other governments did not do during a full term.”
“We have proven that there is a common interest and that agreements can be adhered to,” he said. “We will only win if we are together. If we are divided we simply will not be. If we are united no one can beat us. Let us be good to each other. Let us listen, let us learn to know each other and be respectful.”
In his speech, Bennett listed the achievements of his government. He said it had restored calm and security to the south. put hundreds of thousands of people back to work; Treat two waves of COVID without resorting to lockdown; They fought a wave of terror. raise the salaries of soldiers; He made it clear to our enemies that those who send terrorists to Tel Aviv will pay the price in their homes.
“Soon,” he said vaguely, “there will be additional important news in areas related to our future” – a possible reference to progress in Israel’s relations with countries in the region. US President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Israel and Saudi Arabia next month, and there is much speculation about a breakthrough in this regard, and about expanding defense alliances against Iran.
Bennett gave thanks to Shaked, as well as to his staunch ally Matan Kahane, who he said was the best minister of religious services in the country’s history.
Kahane had hoped he would take the lead, but it is unclear whether he will stay with the party under Shaked.
Stella Weinstein, Yamina’s CEO, resigned in the wake of Bennett’s announcement.
A series of recent polls have shown Yamina to take just four seats in the new elections, bringing the party dangerously close to dropping below the electoral threshold and being expelled from the Knesset. However, the hijacker exploratory study On Channel 12 Wednesday night, Yamina, under Shaked’s leadership, said she would win five seats. The poll showed that if it entered into a partnership with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it would be enough to raise Netanyahu and his bloc to a majority in the Knesset.
Bennett has been vacillating in recent days as to whether or not to run in the next election, and it appears that the poor opinion in opinion polls in favor of Yamina influenced his decision to resign.
Ministers in the outgoing government praised Bennett for his premiership and wish him well going forward.
Lapid wrote on Twitter: “Naftali, my friend, thank you on my behalf and on behalf of the people of Israel.”
“Naftali Bennett is an Israeli citizen,” Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar wrote on Twitter. He was a good prime minister who held the position in a statesmanlike manner. We have worked with full cooperation on behalf of Israel and its citizens. I am convinced that he will return to serve the country in the future. Naftali, thank you and good luck! “
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, head of the left-wing Meretz party, said he has worked closely with Bennett over the past year: “There have been disagreements and political issues, but I have discovered someone who works hard and is realistic who cares about the public. His positions are not mine and that is clear but I have great appreciation for him. I have earned Israel has been a year of good governance, thanks in large part to that.”
Meanwhile, prominent hard-line politicians have expressed their happiness at Bennett’s abandonment of politics, accusing him of cheating voters in the last election by promising he would not agree to a premiership rotation deal with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.
United Torah Judaism party leader Moshe Gafni said sarcastically: “It seems that God is running the world. You cannot lie and deceive an entire country. His party is dying a strange death.”
Shas’ head, MK Aryeh Deri, said Bennett deceived the right-wing camp and “established a government that did the most damage to Jewish identity and the weak.”
The leader of the Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich, the arch-rival of the Yamina leader on the national Orthodox right, said Bennett’s decision to withdraw from political life was “not his own but the decision of the public, which he was disgusted with and vomited from in the midst of it…”
Bennett emerged on the political scene in 2013 when his Jewish Home party won 12 seats in that year’s elections, making it the fourth largest party in the Knesset.
He became Minister of Economy in the thirty-third Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, while MKs Beit Yehudi held several other ministerial portfolios.
The party led by Bennett also joined the incoming Netanyahu government, holding eight seats in the Knesset. Bennett succeeded in securing a powerful portfolio of justice for Shaked while he was Minister of Education.
Following the dissolution of the 34th government, in December 2018, Bennett separated from Beit Yehudi with Shaked due to ongoing tension with the party’s rabbinic leadership and established the short-lived New Right Party.
The New Right failed to cross the electoral threshold in the April 2019 elections, leaving Bennett out of the Knesset and out of power. But in a major political reprieve for him, a new government has yet to be formed and new elections called in September 2019.
Bennett then took a step back, allowing Shaked to lead the party that reunited him with his former partners, the religiously conservative National Union and Tecoma, forming a right.
The party won seven seats in that election and Bennett was eventually able to take the position of defense minister in Netanyahu’s interim government.
After the March 2020 elections, Benny Gantz’s party and Likud formed a government that Bennett decided not to join.
When that government collapsed a little more than a year later, Bennett spent much of the subsequent election campaign fending off accusations by Netanyahu that he would oust the longtime prime minister by forming a government with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.