Yamina chairperson and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has informed his faction colleagues that he does not intend to run in the next election. Bennett made the announcement Wednesday night, as lawmakers continued to wrestle over political brushfires that threatened to expand into legal wildfires.
Bennett said Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked will take over the leadership of Yamina.
Bennett said in his statement to journalists that he will remain as alternate prime minister for the duration of Yesh Atid chairperson and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s tenure in the top spot, promising to do everything in his power to aid Lapid in leading the country once he becomes the new prime minister.
“I will continue to aid him as alternate premiere as much as needed,” said Bennett. “As I have always served as a soldier, an officer and as your prime minister.”
Bennett went on to declare that the outgoing coalition government succeeded more in one year under his leadership in ways that no government that served even a full term has done, saying, “We brought quiet to the south not seen in years,” and “We overcame 2 waves of COVID without any closures.”
Of course, with the vaccination of the vast majority of the population — which began under the Netanyahu government — closures were not really needed.
Bennett also took credit for Israelis getting back to work with low unemployment rates, although such an event was more than likely once the pandemic was brought under control.
As for the quiet in the south of the country, the coalition was formed just after the end of the Guardians of the Wall conflict. One year of quiet on the Gaza border after such a direct conflict with Hamas is not unprecedented. And there were a number of rocket attacks launched at Israel that emanated from Gaza in the past year.
Meanwhile, although Lapid’s tenure as prime minister was set to begin this week it may be put on hold, unless the bill is passed to disperse the Knesset.
Coalition and opposition members still disagreed on a number of important issues, including the date for the snap elections, earlier in the evening. But the lawmakers were reportedly notified to appear in the Knesset plenum for a late-night vote on Wednesday night.
It is still not clear whether the vote will take place at that point.
A political storm continues to swirl over the Metro Law, which determines the operation and maintenance of the future subway in Gush Dan and would provide a solution to the heavy traffic on the roads.
The Likud has said its lawmakers are ready to support the law — in exchange for early elections on October 25. The coalition refused, however. Meanwhile, the Metro Law is stuck.
Another problem on the table is the imminent expiration of the Judea and Samaria Law that expires this weekend.
If the Knesset does not manage to renew the law before that time, half a million Israeli Jews living in Judea, Samaria, the Jordan Valley and eastern Jerusalem will be faced with myriad legal complications, not the least of which will be the question of whether their national health insurance is still valid.
No one expressed surprise at Bennett’s decision, and no one tried very hard to convince him to stay in politics. Several lawmakers immediately tweeted statements of “thanks and have a great day” although others had the grace to at least wait a little.
“Naftali Bennett is an Israeli patriot,” tweeted New Hope Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar after the announcement. “He was a good prime minister who filled the position in a stately manner. We worked with full cooperation for Israel and its citizens. I am convinced that he will return to serve the country in the future. Naftali, thank you and good luck!”
Meretz leader and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz praised Bennett’s work as prime minister in a separate tweet, writing: “In the past year I have worked very closely with Bennett. There are disagreements and politics, but I discovered a hard-working and matter-of-fact person who really cares about the public. A year of good government is very much due to him; much thanks to him.”
TPS contributed to this report.