Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has voted to dissolve itself and send the country to the polls in November for the fifth time in less than four years.
The vote, held on Thursday, means that Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign minister and architect of the outgoing coalition government, will become the country’s caretaker prime minister just after midnight on Friday.
He will be the 14th person to hold that office, taking over from Naftali Bennett, Israel’s shortest-serving prime minister.
New elections will be held on November 1.
The move brings a formal end to a yearlong experiment in which eight parties from across Israel’s political spectrum tried to find common ground after a period of prolonged political gridlock in which the country held four elections in two years.
The upcoming elections are an extension of Israel’s protracted political crisis, at the heart of which sits former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ongoing corruption trial. The four deadlocked elections in the previous three years were largely referendums on his fitness to serve while facing charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu, who heads the biggest party in Israel’s parliament, the right-wing Likud, has denied any wrongdoing.
Lapid, a former talk-show host who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, is expected to campaign as caretaker prime minister to keep the job as the main alternative to Netanyahu, and will likely get an early boost when he welcomes United States President Joe Biden to the country next month.
Polls by Israeli media show Netanyahu and his allies gaining seats, although it is unclear whether they would have enough to form a 61-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset. If neither he nor anyone else succeeds in doing so, Israel could go to elections yet again.
On Wednesday, Bennett said he would be taking a hiatus from politics and would not be running in the upcoming elections. His Yamina party was riven by infighting and splintered following the formation of the government last year as its members broke away in protest of what they considered Bennett’s excessive compromises to more liberal coalition allies.
The death blow came earlier this month, when the government failed to renew an emergency law that preserves the two-tier legal system in the occupied West Bank, with Israeli civil law applying to Jewish settlers living in illegal settlements, while military law applies to Palestinians.
Because the Knesset was dissolved before the end of the month, the emergency law is automatically renewed until after the formation of a new government.
“They promised change, they spoke about healing, they tried an experiment, and the experiment failed,” Netanyahu said in an address to parliament ahead of the vote. “We are the only alternative: a strong, stable, responsible nationalist government.”
The outgoing governing coalition made history by being the first to include a party representing Palestinian citizens of Israel. Mansour Abbas, leader of the United Arab List (Ra’am) faction, joined the coalition to secure better services and more government funding for Palestinians living in Israel, who make up some 20 percent of the population.
Netanyahu and his allies accused coalition members of partnering with “terrorist” sympathisers, even though he had also reportedly courted the party after the last elections.
Palestinian citizens of Israel face widespread discrimination and are seen by many Jewish Israelis as a fifth column because they have close family ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and largely support their struggle for an end to the Israel occupation.