Israeli Prime Minister Bennett will not run in upcoming elections

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who led a broad but fragile coalition government that disintegrated barely a year after taking office, announced on Wednesday that he will not run in the upcoming elections.

His government announced last week that it would dissolve the Knesset ahead of elections expected this fall, but the vote needed to dissolve it has been bogged down by disputes with the opposition.

“As Prime Minister, I have strived to take care of all citizens, regardless of who they voted for,” he said in a brief primetime address. “We proved this year that people of different opinions can work together.”

Bennett’s office said he will continue to serve as deputy prime minister in an interim government led by Yair Lapid, the coalition’s architect who is currently foreign minister. Elections are expected in October or November.

Bennett embodies many of the opposites that animates his little country. He is a religious Jew who made millions in the mostly secular hi-tech sector; a champion of the settlement movement living in suburban Tel Aviv, and a former ally of Benjamin Netanyahu who worked with centrist and left-wing parties to end his 12-year rule.

He was once the leader of the main settler council for the occupied West Bank and remained opposed to the Palestinian state even after becoming prime minister at the head of a coalition with left-wing parties. His government took steps to improve economic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, but ruled out any return to the long-stalled peace process.

Bennett tried to unite the country after a protracted period of political deadlock that saw four elections in less than two years, but ultimately his own small party largely collapsed as members rose up against his coalition.

Netanyahu turned their right-wing base against Bennett, accusing him of betraying them by forging an alliance with left-wing parties and even an Arab faction. Bennett’s speeches in the Knesset were regularly met with shouts and bickering from Netanyahu allies. His family receiving death threats

Many expected Bennett to retire from politics as soon as the government fell.

In his speech, he said Yamina will be led by Ayelet Shaked, a close ally who is the interior minister in the outgoing government.

It’s unclear whether the disarray in Yamina will help or harm their natural allies on the right. If the party joins but fails to pass the electoral threshold, it could deprive Netanyahu and his allies of a potentially crucial partner. Or Shaked could show up as a kingmaker, just like Bennett did.

Associated Press writer Emily Rose in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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