Israel braces for fifth election in less than four years

Israel is set for its fifth election in less than four years after the approval of a bill to dissolve parliament, following the collapse of a short-lived coalition government that banded together to oust the longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office.

Members of the Knesset voted unanimously on Tuesday in favour of the bill, with a deadline of midnight on Wednesday for it to be finalised as law.

The foreign minister, Yair Lapid, will take over as caretaker leader from the prime minister, Naftali Bennett, as per an existing power-sharing agreement, and elections are expected to be held at the end of October, after several major Jewish holidays.

Later on Wednesday, Bennett told members of his right-wing Yamina party that he would not be running in the upcoming election, according to a statement from his spokesperson.

Bennett announced last week that attempts to stabilise his fractious government had been “exhausted” in what appeared to be an effort to pre-empt the Netanyahu-led opposition, which had repeatedly threatened a vote of no confidence.

Lapid and Bennett ended Netanyahu’s record reign a year ago by forming a rare alliance of right, left and Arab parties that overcame significant ideological differences to remove him, but the coalition faltered amid infighting and defections that paralysed its ability to pass legislation.

Imperilled by its ideological divides from the outset, the final straw came after a failure to agree on extending legal protections for Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank.

The scandal-plagued former prime minister hopes to win a sixth term in office, despite being on trial for corruption on charges he denies.

Israel’s coalition and the opposition have sparred over the timing of the dissolution bill since last week: the government wanted quick approval of the legislation, while Netanyahu and his allies had sought more time for talks on forming a new government from within the current parliament, which would have averted new elections.

The opposition’s readiness to dissolve parliament suggested Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new government had stalled.

While his Likud party is consistently leading in the polls, it is still unlikely that the rightwing-religious bloc, nor the centre-left bloc led by Lapid, would win an outright majority. Likud may now be able to work with other parties only if it promises to remove Netanyahu as leader.

The new elections come as Israel deals with the rising cost of living and an escalation in tensions with Iran. Israel held four inconclusive elections between 2019 y 2021 that were largely referendums about Netanyahu’s ability to govern while on trial.

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