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Bennett said to eye election run, amid reports to the contrary

Online advertising budget, rally by supporters, telephone poll of Yamina voters and hints to party activists seen among signs of outgoing PM’s plans

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends an award ceremony for the "Emet Prize" for excellence in the arts, science and culture, held at the Jerusalem Theater on June 26, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends an award ceremony for the "Emet Prize" for excellence in the arts, science and culture, held at the Jerusalem Theater on June 26, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is reportedly considering running in the upcoming elections in a party that will advocate broad political unity, despite reports asserting he would likely take a break from political life after his stint as premier.

Several apparent changes in Bennett’s conduct over the past week have indicated he is reconsidering his options, according to a report Monday by Channel 12.

The report pointed to a budget of hundreds of thousands of shekels that Yamina invested in social media and online advertising over the past few days, the organization of a demonstration by Bennett supporters, and a poll sent out to tens of thousands of Yamina voters with questions alluding to Bennett’s potential political future.

The station broadcast a recording from the telephone survey, conducted Monday, voters in which respondents were asked if they think Bennett should retire from political life, and if they would continue to vote from him if he stayed on.

Bennett himself has not explicitly addressed the matter, but when speaking to Yamina activists in the Knesset earlier in the day, he appeared to hint at his intention to continue in politics.

“Now is the time for unity. What needs to be done right now is to take care of the country, the economy, security, and to provide many more years of quiet in Gaza. Iran needs to be dealt with and weakened, so it can’t harm us via its proxies,” the outgoing premier said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset,in Jerusalem on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett has said he plans to focus on Iran after taking up his role as alternate prime minister when Yair Lapid assumes office as premier after the Knesset dissolves itself, seemingly on Wednesday. The rotation is part of the coalition agreement between the two.

“I will take care of the Iranian issue, and we will keep going,” he told Yamina activists, according to a report by Channel 13.

“The goal that should be guiding us is broad [political] unity. Yes, including the fringes, if they are willing to set aside ideological differences and focus on making progress. Unity brings out the best in people. Now is the time for unity,” Bennett said.

Bennett’s staunch political ally, Yamina MK Matan Kahana, said Monday evening that he will not stay in the party if fellow party member Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked assumes control in the event of a Bennett resignation.

Kahana and Shaked disagree about the future of the party, with Kahana leaning toward a unity government and Shaked seeking to reserve the option of supporting a government led by opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu, according to the Walla news site.

Bennett, Kahana and Shaked met at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on Sunday and discussed the  future of Yamina. Bennett said that if he does decide to quit politics, Shaked would lead the party, the report said.

Polls released last week showed Yamina would only win four or five seats if elections were held today, compared to the seven the party picked up in the 2021 elections.

Matan Kahana in the Knesset alongside Yamina colleagues Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked (Danny Shem-Tov)

Lawmakers passed the first reading of a bill to dissolve Israel’s 24th Knesset in the early hours of Tuesday morning, putting Israel another step closer to its fifth elections in three-and-a-half years.

The vote was held after lawmakers from the governing coalition and the opposition spent all day Monday debating issues such as the date of the next national elections and which legislation would be passed before parliament dissolves.

According to coalition-opposition understandings, the final readings of the bill to dissolve parliament will be held by Wednesday. Once it is passed, Bennett will hand over power to Lapid, who will serve as interim prime minister through elections and until a new government is formed.

Opposition leaders are pressing for an October 25 election date, while the coalition prefers a date in early November.

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