Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says he will not run in upcoming elections

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Israel came closer on Wednesday to its fifth election in less than four years, plunging it deeper into political uncertainty as it grapples with rising costs of living amid renewed international efforts to revive a nuclear deal with Iran.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he will not run in the upcoming elections but would retain his position as deputy prime minister after his coalition partner Yair Lapid takes over as head of the outgoing government.

“I leave behind a thriving, strong and safe country,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “We proved this year that people of very different opinions can work together,” he added, referring to his ideologically diverse coalition.

Last week, Bennett decided to disperse parliament after a series of defections rendered his governing coalition untenable. The final vote on the bill to dissolve the Knesset, which was scheduled to take place before midnight, was postponed to Thursday due to many amendments tabled, Israeli public broadcaster Kan radio said.

Amendments have been tabled by parties from across the political spectrum. Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman said his party blocked the proliferation law to advance a metro project, and the Arab-led Joint List party said it hoped a raid would lead to the expiration of regulations offering legal protections to settlers in the occupied West Bank.

Once the early elections have received final approval from the Knesset, Israel’s centre-left foreign minister, Yair Lapid, will take over Bennett as prime minister of an interim government with limited powers.

But even as lawmakers grapple over the exact election date, either October 25 or November 1, the campaign is already dominated by the potential comeback of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lapid and Bennett ended Netanyahu’s record 12-year reign a year ago by forming a rare, ideologically mixed alliance with the first independent Arab party. The government held out longer than many expected, but has faltered in recent weeks amid infighting in power.

Netanyahu, now opposition leader, welcomes the end of what he has called the worst government in Israel’s history. He hopes to win a sixth term in office, despite being on trial for corruption on charges he denies.

Polls have shown that his right-wing Likud party leads the polls but still lacks a ruling majority, despite support from allied religious and nationalist parties.

Lawmakers from the pro-Netanyahu bloc have said they were in the process of forming a new government before parliament is dissolved. That scenario, which seems far off, would stand in the way of an early election.

(REUTERS)