Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will formally take over as acting prime minister on Friday, under the terms of a coalition deal struck between outgoing prime minister Naftali Bennett and Lapid last year. Since Lapid, a former journalist and broadcaster who is interim prime minister, there will be no official swearing-in ceremony.
Thursday’s 92-0 vote finally ended Bennett’s slow run as prime minister – one of the shortest terms in Israeli history – and gave former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a potential path back to power.
When the vote ended, Lapid and Bennett hugged each other, hugged, and switched places, so that Lapid took the prime minister’s seat.
As they were leaving the Knesset hall, Bennett accidentally took Lapid’s mobile phone. “My brother,” said Lapid, “you took my phone.” Bennett replied, “My brother, you have taken my job.”
New elections will be held on November 1, the fifth round of voting for Israelis in less than four years. Recent polls show that former Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party is on track to win the most seats, but polls do not show that his right-wing bloc will necessarily have enough seats to win a parliamentary majority and form a ruling government.
Speaking on the floor of parliament ahead of the dissolution vote, Netanyahu vowed to return to power.
“We are the only alternative: a strong national government, stable and responsible. A government that will restore national honor to the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
The night before the dissolution, Bennett announced that he was retiring from politics and would not run for re-election.
“I will remain a loyal soldier of this country, which I have served all my life as a soldier, officer, minister and prime minister. The State of Israel is the love of my life. Serving her is my destiny,” Bennett said. in addressing the nation. “It’s time to step back a bit. Look at things from the side.”
The coalition government vacillated for weeks. But Bennett and Lapid’s announcement last week that they want to dissolve their own government and hand over power to Lapid came as a surprise.
“Over the past few weeks, we have done everything we can to save this government. In our view, its continued existence was in the national interest,” Bennett said earlier this month, standing next to Lapid.
“Trust me, we looked under every rock. We did this not for ourselves, but for our beautiful country, for you, the citizens of Israel,” Bennett added.
The Bennett-Lapid government was sworn in last June, ending a more than 12-year Netanyahu 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.
While this led to significant domestic and diplomatic gains, it was domestic politics that ultimately led to the collapse of the coalition.
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 in the Palestinian territories the same legal treatment as those within Israel’s borders and is a symbol of faith for right-wing members of the coalition, including the prime minister. Minister Bennet.
But two members of the coalition refused to support the bill, that is, it did not pass.
Since Parliament was dissolved before the law expired on July 1, the ordinance will remain in effect until a new government is formed, at which point it will be put to a vote again.
Andrew Carey contributed to this report.