Israeli legislators will vote to dissolve parliament, opening the way for the country’s fifth election in three years, following weeks of pressure on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s fragile governing coalition.
Bennett will step aside to be replaced by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, his partner in the unlikely coalition of opposites that ended former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s record 12-year rule 12 months ago.
Bennett and Lapid decided to present a vote to dissolve parliament in the coming days, Bennett’s office said on Monday. Lapid is then to serve as caretaker prime minister until new elections can be held.
Announcing the plan to disband the government during a nationally televised news conference, Bennett said he had made “the right decision” in difficult circumstances.
“Together, we got Israel out of the pit. We accomplished many things in this year. First and foremost, we brought to centre stage the values of fairness and trust,” Bennett said, standing alongside his main partner, Lapid. “We shifted to a culture of ‘we,’ ‘together.’”
Lapid and Bennett in June 2021 formed the coalition after two years of political stalemate, ending Netanyahu’s stay in power.
The government of right-wing, liberal and Arab parties was fragile from the start.
With a razor-thin parliamentary majority and divided on major policy issues such as Palestinian statehood, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and state and religion issues, the eight-faction alliance began to fracture when a handful of members abandoned the coalition.
It lost its majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament in April when a member of Bennett’s Yamina party announced her departure.
Recent divisions over the renewal of a measure that allows Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank to live under Israeli law caused fresh friction, with some Palestinian lawmakers refusing to back it.
The alliance made a series of accomplishments, including passing the first national budget in several years and navigating a pair of coronavirus outbreaks without imposing any lockdowns.
But eventually it unravelled, in large part because several members of Bennett’s hard-line party objected to what they felt were compromises made by him to keep the coalition afloat and his perceived moderation.
The dissolution threatened to overshadow a visit scheduled next month by United States President Joe Biden. Israeli media quoted Biden’s ambassador, Tom Nides, as saying the visit would take place as planned.
The new vote could set the stage for a return to power by Netanyahu, who is now the opposition leader.
Opinion polls have forecast that Netanyahu’s hard-line Likud will once again emerge as the largest single party. But it remains unclear whether he would be able to muster the required support of a majority of lawmakers to form a new government.
“I think the winds have changed. I feel it,” Netanyahu declared.