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TEL AVIV: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convened what is likely his last Cabinet meeting as prime minister on Sunday, with parliament due to dissolve this week, triggering new elections in the fall.
Bennett’s decision to stand for election ends an ambitious political project that has united eight ideologically disparate parties who chose to put aside their differences to oust former leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the current opposition leader, who now has an opening to return to the head of the country. The elections, the fifth the country has held in three years, are deepening an unprecedented political crisis in Israel.
At the meeting, Bennett listed a series of achievements under his year-long government and thanked his coalition partners, which included pacifist parties that support Palestinian statehood, nationalists that do not, and for the first time in Israel’s history, a political Arab faction.
“It was an excellent government that was based, yes, on a complicated coalition. And here, in this room, there is a group of people who knew how to put aside ideological disagreements, rise above and work for the State of Israel,” he said.
As part of the power-sharing deal that brought Bennett to power, he is set to hand over the prime minister’s post to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a former centrist broadcaster, once parliament dissolves. Elections are scheduled for late October and polls show Netanyahu’s Likud party is expected to garner the most seats.
But as with most ballots during the current political unrest, Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, has been unable to muster a majority to form a coalition government, with some of his traditional allies refusing to join him. . This could further prolong the crisis after the upcoming vote.
As Bennett’s government helped stabilize the economy and weather the final year of the coronavirus pandemic, it was plagued by disagreements over the very issues it sought to avoid, particularly the occupation of the West Bank by Israel for 55 years. Bennett said he decided to end his political experiment because the government was unable to renew regulations that enshrine separate legal systems for Jewish settlers in the territory and Palestinians.
Bennett’s own nationalist faction, Yamina, was sued by defectors, lawmakers who said the prime minister, a former settler leader, had leaned too far to the center in his bid to keep the coalition intact.
Bennett, who entered politics 10 years ago, has not said whether he will run in the next election.