Israel’s weakened coalition government has announced that it intends to dissolve the Knesset, setting the stage for the country’s fifth election in three years and a potential return to office for longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A statement released by the office of the prime minister, Naftali Bennett, on Monday night said that “attempts to stabilise the coalition had been exhausted” and his fractious government, made up of eight ideologically disparate parties, will submit a bill next week to dissolve parliament.
If approved as expected, the legislation will force new elections and mean Foreign Minister Yair Lapid takes over as caretaker leader as per an existing agreement.
In comments in a joint media conference after the unexpected announcement, Bennett said that dismantling the government “isn’t an easy moment”. “Over the past weeks, we did whatever we could to save this government, not for us, but for the benefit of the country," él dijo.
“I held many talks and understood that if the Knesset did not dissolve within 10 dias, Israel’s security would be severely harmed,” Bennett added, referring to the coalition’s inability to agree on the renewal of legislation relating to Jewish settlers in the West Bank before a deadline at the end of June.
Lapid, the incoming premier, praised Bennett as a friend and for the “responsibility he is showing today, for the fact that he is putting the country before his personal interests”.
Factions from Israel’s left, Derecha, and for the first time, an independent Arab party, banded together a year ago as part of an ambitious coalition experiment in order to oust Netanyahu from power. The government has struggled to function, sin emabargo, since losing its slim majority in April.
Monday’s decision was met in the Knesset’s corridors with surprise; Israeli media reported that neither the defence nor interior ministers were aware of the move in advance. It appears to be an effort to pre-empt the Netanyahu-led opposition, which had warned it would submit its own bill to dissolve parliament later this week.
Netanyahu said in a statement on Monday night that the coalition’s imminent collapse was “great news for millions of Israeli citizens” and that his conservative Likud party would seek to form a “wide, national government”.
Elections are expected in late October or November, after the conclusion of several major Jewish holidays. While Likud is leading in the polls, it is unlikely that the rightwing-religious bloc, nor the centre-left bloc led by Lapid, would win an outright majority.
Israel also held four inconclusive elections between 2019 y 2021 that were largely referendums about the corruption scandal-plagued Netanyahu’s ability to rule while on trial, in an unprecedented era of political gridlock.
Likud may now only be able to work with other parties if it promises to remove Netanyahu as leader.
The former prime minister denies wrongdoing. Three separate trials, into allegations that he sought preferential treatment for a telecom company, solicited favourable media coverage and received gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, are ongoing.
Bennett’s government can claim some successes during its short tenure: it formed the most diverse coalition in Israeli history; passed overdue budgets; guided Israel through the latter stages of the pandemic without ordering new lockdowns; and made amends with a judiciary much maligned by Netanyahu.
It has also largely dampened the tensions that last May led to a round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group in control of the Gaza Strip, as well as ethnically charged violence on the streets of Israeli cities.
An agreement to focus on areas of common ground in government and avoid divisive issues such as the occupation of the Palestinian territories, sin emabargo, proved too difficult in practice – the coalition’s architects spent much of their time dangling carrots and wielding sticks at wavering factions threatening to quit.
Netanyahu, Entretanto, capitalised on the coalition’s disunity by encouraging the opposition to vote against every government-proposed bill in a bid to further paralyse his rivals.
The government lost its majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament two months ago when a member of Bennett’s hardline Yamina party announced her departure over what she described as compromises made by the prime minister to keep the coalition afloat.
Recent divisions over the renewal of a measure extending legal protections for Jewish settlers in the West Bank caused fresh friction, with some Arab members of the coalition refusing to back it. Nationalist party New Hope, also part of the coalition, threatened to exit the arrangement if the government could not get the settler legislation passed.
The government’s supporters had hoped it could cling on until the close of the Knesset’s summer session in five weeks’ time.
Tal y como está, the dissolution may derail a visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories by Joe Biden, [object Window], scheduled for mid-July. On Monday night, Israeli media quoted the US ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, as saying that the president’s trip would take place as planned. Lapid is expected to host Biden during the state visit.
The new elections come as Israel deals with the aftermath of one of the deadliest waves of Palestinian terrorist attacks in years, clashes at Jerusalem’s holy sites, and an escalation in tensions with Iran.