Jerusalem (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who led a broad but fragile coalition government that came from collapse barely a year after taking office, announced on Wednesday that he would not run in the next election.
His government announced last week that it would dissolve the Knesset before elections expected this fall, but the vote needed to dissolve the Knesset has stalled due to disagreements with the opposition.
“As prime minister, I have strived to take care of all citizens, no matter who they voted for,” he said in a prime-time terse speech. “This year we’ve proven that people with different opinions can work together.”
Bennett’s office said he would continue to serve as an alternative prime minister in a caretaker government led by Yair Lapid, the coalition architect who is currently the foreign minister. Elections are expected to be held in October or November.
Bennett embodies many contradictions That greets his little country. He is a devout Jew who has made millions in the predominantly secular high-tech sector. A hero of the settlement movement who lives in a Tel Aviv suburb, and a former ally of Benjamin Netanyahu partnered with the center and left parties to end his 12-year rule.
He was once the leader of the main settler council in the occupied West Bank, and remained opposed to a Palestinian state, even after becoming prime minister at the head of a coalition that included left-wing parties. His government has taken steps to improve economic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, but has ruled out any return to the long-stalled peace process.
Bennett sought to unify the country after a prolonged period of political stalemate led to four elections in less than two years, but eventually his small party largely collapsed, as members rebelled against his coalition.
Netanyahu whipped their right-wing base against Bennett, accusing him of betraying them by forming an alliance with left-wing parties and even an Arab faction. Bennett’s speeches in the Knesset were regularly met with shouts and harassment from Netanyahu’s allies. His family received death threats.
Many expected Bennett to walk away from politics once the government fell.
In his speech, he said Yamina would be led by Ayelet Shaked, a close ally and interior minister in the outgoing government.
It is unclear whether the chaos on Yamina will help or harm their natural allies on the right. If the party runs but fails to cross the electoral threshold, it could deprive Netanyahu and his allies of a potential potential partner. Or Shaked might appear as a kingmaker, just as Bennett did.
Associated Press writer Emily Rose in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
“Subtly charming student. Pop culture junkie. Creator. Amateur music specialist. Beer fanatic.”