Israel braces for possible fifth election in four years as PM Bennett moves to dissolve parliament

Together with his key coalition ally, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who looks set to succeed him as leader as early as next week, Bennett agreed to introduce a bill to dissolve parliament that, if passed, would lead to a general election at the end of this year.

This announcement follows several weeks of growing political uncertainty in Israel, but still comes as a big surprise.

A brief statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said the move was taken “after efforts to stabilize the coalition had been exhausted.” The bill will be introduced to Parliament at some point next week, the statement said.

If passed, Lapid will become the country’s fourteenth prime minister under the original coalition deal struck last year. It also means that Israelis will vote for the fifth time in less than four years.

Among the first items on Lapid’s agenda, if he does take the lead, will be preparations for US President Joe Biden’s visit next month. A senior administration official said the president’s trip to the Middle East is still pending despite the political turmoil in Israel.

“We have a strategic relationship with Israel that goes beyond any government. The President looks forward to a visit next month,” a White House spokesman said.

The Bennett-Lapid government was sworn in last June, ending Benjamin Netanyahu’s nearly twelve and a half year premiership.

The coalition of no less than eight political parties spanned the entire political spectrum, including for the first time an Arab party led by Mansour Abbas.

United by a desire to prevent Netanyahu, whose trial had already begun in May 2020, from remaining in power, the scattered coalition partners agreed to put aside their significant differences.

In November, he made significant progress domestically, passing the state budget for the first time in nearly four years.

But in recent weeks, a number of coalition members have either left or threatened to leave, leaving the government without a majority in parliament to pass the law.

The political stalemate came to a head earlier this month when a vote in the Knesset failed to support the application of Israeli criminal and civil law to Israelis in the occupied West Bank.

Among other things, the ruling, which is updated every five years, gives Israeli settlers the same rights as Israeli citizens and is a symbol of faith for right-wing members of the coalition, including Prime Minister Bennett.

But two members of the coalition did not support the bill, that is, it did not pass. If parliament is dissolved before July 1, the ordinance will remain in effect until a new government is formed.

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Speaking alongside Lapid on Monday night, Bennett said their government was defying what he called the bitterness and paralysis of the Netanyahu era instead of putting integrity and trust first.

“Over the past few weeks, we have done everything we can to save this government. In our eyes, its continued existence was in the national interest. Trust me, we looked under every stone. for our beautiful country, for you citizens of Israel.”

For his part, Lapid paid tribute to Bennett as a courageous and innovative leader. And he seemed to be warning sharply about the dangers of Netanyahu’s return to leadership.

“Today we need to return to the concept of Israeli unity. Don’t let the dark forces tear us apart from the inside,” he said.

Netanyahu, by contrast, was upbeat, saying the country was smiling after what he called an evening of good news.

“After a determined struggle by the opposition in the Knesset and great public suffering in Israel, it is clear to all that the darkest government in the history of the country has come to an end.”

Netanyahu and his supporters have been buoyed by the latest opinion polls, which show his bloc of right-wing and religious parties is doing well, though still not enough to win a majority in parliament.