Israel elections: Bennett, Yamina's futures discussed in talks with Shaked

Yamina's future is uncertain, with Shaked and Matan Kahana split on key issues and the outgoing PM unsure whether to remain as party leader.

 Yamina's Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked seen in the plenum hall of the Israeli parliament during the voting in the presidential elections, in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021 (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI)
Yamina's Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked seen in the plenum hall of the Israeli parliament during the voting in the presidential elections, in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's political future was thrown into doubt after he and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced they will disperse the Knesset, thereby making Lapid the interim prime minister under the rotation agreement.

Reports suggest Bennett has been going back and forth on whether to run in the upcoming elections for the Knesset. His Yamina faction is struggling in the polls, with uncertainty over who will be included in Bennett's list.

If the prime minister chooses to leave politics, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked is the likely candidate to lead Yamina. Last week, Shaked held unsuccessful negotiations with the opposition in the hopes of forming an alternate government during this Knesset, rather than going to an election.

Bennett and Shaked held talks on Sunday and Monday with fellow Yamina MK Matan Kahana at the Prime Minister's Office on the future of their troubled faction. It is understood that Kahana will not stay if Shaked leads the party, as he opposes a right-wing, Netanyahu-led government.

If Bennett decides to stay, he and Kahana will continue the messages put forward by the prime minister that a Netanyahu-Smotrich-Ben Gvir government would be a "disaster" for Israel, instead pushing for a broad coalition with as many factions as possible.

A man hangs a Likud election banner, depicting party leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top challenger, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapi (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)A man hangs a Likud election banner, depicting party leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top challenger, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapi (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

Bennett's centrist stance was emphasized in a meeting with Yamina activists in the Knesset on Monday, in which he said that a Netanyahu government "must not be allowed to happen."

"As a right-winger myself, that government would be bad for Israel," he reiterated.

A "broad unity" government is the only way forward, Bennett told his activists. "If we agree to set ideological arguments aside and focus on our service, we'll find unity brings out the best of us."

"If we agree to set ideological arguments aside and focus on our service, we'll find unity brings out the best of us"

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett

Shaked's future rests on Bennett's decision

As fitting for two intrinsically linked politicians, Shaked's future rests on Bennett's dilemma of whether to lead the charge for unity or walk away.

Tensions surfaced between the Yamina leaders when Shaked, who was in Morocco at the time, was notified at the last minute of Bennett and Lapid's move to dissolve the Knesset and head to an election.

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett, with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked at his side, waves in the Knesset on June 13, the day the government was inaugurated. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett, with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked at his side, waves in the Knesset on June 13, the day the government was inaugurated. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

If Bennett does quit, Shaked could find herself leading a party whose members mostly disagree with her, with rebellious Yamina MKs Idit Silman and Nir Orbach most likely to end up on the Likud's list for the upcoming election. The first renegade, MK Amichai Chikli, was declared a defector, banning him from running in an established faction.

Despite Shaked reportedly asking Bennett to stay as head of Yamina, she has made her intentions clear in talks: She will look to merge with other factions. That could be with the anti-Netanyahu New Hope and Blue and White parties or with the Likud.