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Naftali Bennett hints at possible return to politics

“We did it then, and we can do it again. We will establish a state here that is worthy of this people,” declared the former premier.

Then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a Cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 19, 2022. Photo by Alex Kolomoisky/POOL.
Then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a Cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 19, 2022. Photo by Alex Kolomoisky/POOL.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hinted at a possible return to politics in a long tweet on Thursday.

“Three years ago today, I took the oath of allegiance as the 13th Prime Minister of the State of Israel,” he wrote. “We did it then, and we can do it again. We will establish a state here that is worthy of this people,” he continued.

Bennett highlighted the challenges facing the country in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, saying he has been speaking to many citizens who are in “real despair” and feel an “existential anxiety for the State of Israel.”

He continued: “For a little over a year, I served you, the citizens of Israel, when I was at the head of a government that up until that moment would have seemed impossible.”

Bennett recalled the turmoil that surrounded his ascent to Israel’s highest office, including non-stop elections, the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic crisis.

“Ministers from the left and the right decided to put aside all the differences and gather together for the sake of saving the State of Israel,” he said.

“The establishment of this emergency government, of which I am so proud, was at the time as necessary as breathing air,” he wrote. “It proved that Israel can be taken out of the mud, and even quickly—if only we are together and work together.”

Requests for comment from Bennett’s office by JNS were not immediately forthcoming.

Minister Chikli

Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli responded harshly to the news.

“Three years ago today, you broke your oath to hundreds of thousands of voters not to form a government with those who support the lawsuit against IDF officers in The Hague, not to be a partner in the boycott of the largest right-wing party [Likud], not to form a government with a dangerous Islamist party [the United Arab List, aka Ra’am],” wrote Chikli on X.

He listed a number of grievances he had with Bennett’s performance as prime minster, including his decision to form a government while leading a party with fewer than 10 mandates (his Yamina Party garnered seven Knesset seats in the March 2021 election), the controversial natural gas deal with Lebanon, giving in to American pressure, and his actions vis-à-vis Hamas and Gaza.

The gas deal drew a border between the two countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs) based on a boundary known as Line 23, and awards a disputed area of around 840 square kilometers (324 square miles) to Lebanon, while recognizing Israel’s claim to the Karish gas field and to royalties from the section of the Qana field that extends into the Jewish state’s EEZ.

The diaspora affairs minister agreed that “there is a lot to fix and improve,” but said with someone like Yesh Atid Party head Yair Lapid in power, “there would not have been an intensive ground operation in Gaza, certainly there would have been no operation in Rafah, and you would probably be marching together with [U.S. Secretary of State Antony] Blinken in the light of sunset to the corrals of a surrender deal.”

“Spare us the pose of the knight on the white horse, you have benefited from hundreds of thousands of lies and only sat in the prime minister’s chair by force of extortion and deception”, Chikli said.

Bennett announced a break from politics in the leadup to the November 2022 elections following his handover of the premiership to Yesh Atid Party head Yair Lapid as part of a rotation agreement.

Since then, he has been fairly active in the public sphere, including speaking on international television on the country’s behalf since the outbreak of the current war.

Following the establishment of the current government, Bennett criticized its plan for judicial reform.

“The full current proposal is dangerous,” he posted on Twitter in January 2023. “It will harm the foundations of the State of Israel, its economy and its citizens, and it may tear the rope that connects us all. That’s why it needs to be fixed. There is only one solution: Sit together, talk, and reach the right change.”

Bennett had previously vowed to return to politics, comparing himself to Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whom recaptured the premiership after lengthy periods out of office.

“In Israel, we can be recycled. It never ends. Rabin was prime minister from ’74 to ’77 and came back. Bibi [Netanyahu] was prime minister from ’96 to ’99 and he’s back. So, I’ll be back,” said Bennett.

In June 2021, he defected from the right to lead a coalition as part of a power-sharing agreement with Lapid. Bennett described his decision to abandon his right-wing base and join forces with center-left, far-left and Islamist parties as the “best and most Zionist decision in my life.”

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