Bennett officially steps down as alternate prime minister

Resignation will go into effect Tuesday, comes after former PM agreed with outgoing successor Lapid that no sensitive decisions will be made in transition period

Then-alternate prime minister Naftali Bennett at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2022. (Olivier Fitousi/ Flash90)
Then-alternate prime minister Naftali Bennett at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2022. (Olivier Fitousi/ Flash90)

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett officially submitted his resignation Sunday as alternate prime minister, after announcing last week that he would be stepping down imminently ahead of the expected formation of a new government.

His resignation will take effect on Tuesday, curtailing a decade-long career in politics that was capped — and seemingly doomed — by a surprise ascension to the premiership last year.

Bennett handed the country’s leadership to outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid — honoring a power-sharing agreement they had signed — and announced that he would be leaving politics after their diverse coalition collapsed and new elections were called in June.

Bennett first announced his decision on Thursday, two days after opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu won the election, and wished the anticipated incoming right-wing religious coalition luck.

“I hope the new government will act responsibly and with as broad a consensus as possible in the public,” he said.

In a statement, the former prime minister praised the work of his government, stating that it formulated policies through “negotiation and agreement.”

After meeting with Lapid earlier that day, Bennett said the two agreed that no unnecessary sensitive political decisions would be made until the establishment of the new government.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (L) and Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett at a conference in Ramat Gan, December 17, 2012 (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (L) and Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett at a conference in Ramat Gan, December 17, 2012 (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Lapid tweeted his gratitude to his “friend and partner” in response to Bennett’s announcement.

“Together we did big things for the benefit of the State of Israel. Our story isn’t over yet,” he said.

Bennett burst onto the political scene in 2013 when his Jewish Home party took 12 seats in the elections, becoming the fourth-largest party in the Knesset.

He became economy minister in the 33rd government headed by Netanyahu, while Jewish Home MKs took several other ministerial portfolios.

The party under Bennett also joined Netanyahu’s next government, and took eight Knesset seats. At the time, Bennett managed to secure the powerful portfolio of justice minister for running mate Ayelet Shaked while taking on the role of education minister.

After the dissolution of the 34th government, in December 2018, Bennett broke away from Jewish Home together with Shaked amid persistent tension with the party’s rabbinical leadership and set up the short-lived New Right party.

New Right failed to cross the electoral threshold in the April 2019 election, leaving Bennett out of the Knesset and out of power. But in a huge political reprieve for him, a new government could not be formed and new elections were called for September of that year.

Bennett then took a step back, allowing Shaked to lead the party, which reunited with its former hardline, religiously conservative partners National Union and Tekuma, forming Yamina.

Yamina leaders (left to right) Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, former justice minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Rafi Peretz at the party’s election-night headquarters in Ramat Gan on March 2, 2020. (Flash90)

The party took seven seats in that election, and Bennett eventually took on the post of defense minister in Netanyahu’s interim government.

Following the March 2020 election, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party and Likud formed a government that Bennett decided not to join.

When that government collapsed after little over a year, Bennett spent much of the next election campaign fending off accusations from Netanyahu that he would topple the long-time premier by forming a government with Lapid, while simultaneously pledging to prevent an additional election and extricate Israel from the unprecedented political crisis.

Indeed, after the 2021 elections, Bennett and Lapid formed a diverse coalition of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties, and for the first time in Israel’s history, an Arab party, Ra’am. Bennett was to serve as prime minister for the first half of the government’s term as part of a premiership rotation deal with the Yesh Atid chair.

But after a year, the government collapsed under the weight of defections, many from his own party, Yamina, due to ideological divisions with coalition partners. With polls predicting his party would only win four seats at the elections, Bennett — who had been relentlessly lambasted by Netanyahu’s opposition and much of his right-wing base since joining the government — announced in June, shortly before the dissolution of the Knesset, that he would resign from politics.

His term as MK will end with the swearing-in of the 25th Knesset.

In a parting statement Friday, Bennett called on the expected new right-wing government not “to trample” the left, and also urged left-wing Israelis not to despair over the election outcome.

“The results are not the end of the country,” Bennett said, adding that he believed incoming ministers would work for the general public “and not a specific community.”

He appealed to the victorious right-religious bloc: “Respect the losing side. There is no need to trample or run over anyone.”

Acknowledging the election result, Bennett said Netanyahu’s bloc won a mandate to enact right-wing policies, “but no one should be made to feel that he is unwelcome.”

“Left-wingers love the country no less than right-wingers, they just hold different opinions regarding the correct direction,” he said. “Ultimately, all of us need to live here together.”

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