Hours after he was fired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outgoing Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday vowed to run in the September 17 election at the helm of the New Right party, which he formed with Ayelet Shaked, and which failed to win any seats in the April 9 vote.
Standing outside his Ra’anana home, Bennett told reporters that the new elections, while “not a happy outcome,” provided “an opportunity for all of us to approach things more wisely, more seriously, more modestly. That goes for me, too.”
Bennett said his party would present a lineup that “unites all parts of the nation: religious and secular.”
In an apparent jab at Netanyahu, Bennett said that while New Right would “not compromise or settle on its positions,” it would also “not be concerned only with picking fights with the left.”
In a meeting with activists in the central town of Tel Mond later Sunday, Shaked said, alongside Bennett, that she needed a few more days to make a decision on how to proceed.
“I told Naftali and people close to me: I want to take a few days to think and decide exactly what I want to do and what is the right thing.
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu fired Bennett and Shaked in a reshuffle of his interim government as he geared up for the September elections.
Officials told Hebrew media that the pair were ousted because could not hold such “sensitive” positions for six months after they failed to be reelected by the public. However, the move was widely seen as designed to prevent the once-popular right-wing ministers from using their positions to bolster their campaigns for the fall vote.
Prospects of Shaked rejoining Bennett in leading New Right appeared to rise Sunday after Netanyahu reportedly ruled out reserving a spot for her on Likud’s slate.
New Right’s failure to win Knesset seats in April’s election — the party was only about 1,500 votes shy of clearing the electoral threshold and securing four seats in the legislature — threw Bennett and Shaked into the political wilderness, but with the failure of coalition talks last week and the announcement of a new election in September, the two are poised to make a second run for office.
Shaked was believed to be angling for a spot on Likud’s slate — the party is not holding new primaries though Netanyahu can reserve slots — but Hebrew media reported that the premier had ruled that out, possibly at the insistence of his wife.
New Right would then appear to be the most natural platform for Shaked to return to, particularly amid talk of a possible joint slate with the Union of Right-Wing Parties.
Bezalel Smotrich of the URWP on Sunday called for all parties “to the right of Likud” to run under a single political umbrella in the election — though he appeared to exclude Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu.
Speaking to Army Radio, Smotrich called for a merger, though he ruled out an earlier report on the station that suggested Shaked could be tapped to head such an alliance.
Shaked “abandoned, divided, crushed and made a mistake that sent the whole country into a whirlwind. You want to come back? We can certainly consider, but I don’t think there’s a reason in the world why you should be number one,” he said.
Shaked and former Jewish Home leader Bennett left the party ahead of the April 9 election to form the New Right.
Jewish Home, including Smotrich’s National Union faction, then merged with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party to create the URWP, which won five of the 120 Knesset seats.
Smotrich accused New Right of taking a “dangerous gamble” in running on a separate ticket in the April elections and “losing a lot of votes for the right.”
A report on Friday said Bennett was also hoping to engineer an alliance of small parties for the upcoming election.
Far-right politician and head of the quasi-libertarian, pro-cannabis Zehut party Moshe Feiglin confirmed Saturday that he had met with Bennett to discuss cooperating in the upcoming election campaign.
For a time, Feiglin’s Zehut was seen as the Cinderella story of the campaign season, after years of the party leader waiting on the political sidelines. Early polls ignored Zehut, but, as its pro-cannabis position took center stage, the party gradually grew in popularity, with most polls predicting it would win four to seven seats.
However, it ultimately failed to pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold, gaining 2.73% of the April 9 vote with 117,587 ballots.
“The meeting was long and positive, and it certainly seems that there is a basis for further examination of the possibility of cooperation in the upcoming elections,” Feiglin wrote on his Facebook page.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.