Israel’s parliament is expected to be dissolved on Wednesday, ending Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s long-term tenure and triggering a fifth election in less than four years, allowing ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to regain power.
Barring an 11-hour shock accord to save the coalition or form a new government within the existing parliament, Bennett’s eight-party alliance will end by midnight, with Secretary of State Yair Lapid installed as prime minister.
The former television host will lead a caretaker government pending polls in late October or early November.
Bennett’s motley crew, formed in 2021, provided a reprieve from an unprecedented era of political stalemate, ending Netanyahu’s record of 12 consecutive years in power and approving Israel’s first state budget since 2018.
Netanyahu — a divisive hawk affiliated with far-right nationalists and Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties — has promised victory in new elections but may once again struggle to gain a parliamentary majority, multiple polls show.
He is currently on trial for corruption charges, which he denies.
The anti-Netanyahu camp is likely to be led by Lapid, a centrist former TV celebrity. Rejected as a lightweight when he entered politics ten years ago, he has surprised many with his political prowess.
When he and Bennett announced last week that their coalition was no longer tenable, Lapid tried to view Netanyahu’s potential return to office as a national threat.
“What we need to do today is go back to the concept of Israeli unity. Not to let dark forces tear us apart from within,” Lapid said.
While the collapse of parliament seemed almost certain, last-minute surprises remained possible given the unstable political climate in Israel.
Factions across the political spectrum fear they will lose seats in new polls or disappear completely from parliament by falling below the minimum support threshold, which is 3.25 percent of all votes cast.
But, according to Israeli reports, the options for avoiding another election were increasingly removed.
That means Lapid is expected to take office at midnight after parliament gives final approval to a dissolution bill, in line with the power-sharing agreement he agreed with Bennett last June.
– ‘Fought like lions’ –
Bennett, a religious nationalist, led a coalition of right-wing, centrist, dove and Islamists of the Raam faction, which made history by becoming the first Arab party to support an Israeli government in the Jewish state’s 74-year history.
The alliance, united by its desire to oust Netanyahu and break a pernicious cycle of indecisive elections, has been jeopardized from the start by its ideological divisions.
But Bennett said the last straw was a failure to renew a measure that would ensure that some 475,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank live under Israeli law.
Some Arab lawmakers in the coalition declined to support a bill they said was de facto approval of a 55-year occupation that has forced Palestinians in the West Bank to live under Israeli rule.
For Bennett, a staunch supporter of settlements, the repeal of the so-called West Bank Act was unacceptable. If parliament is dissolved before it expires on June 30, the measure will be temporarily extended.
“We fought like lions, until the very last moment, until it simply became impossible,” Bennett told the Israeli channel 12 days after announcing the demise of his coalition.
Bennett is expected to stay on as deputy prime minister and in charge of Iran policy as world powers take steps to revive stalled talks over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Israel opposes a reinstatement of the 2015 agreement that gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for controls on its nuclear program.
Lapid retains his title as foreign minister while serving as Israel’s 14th prime minister. He will find himself under an early microscope, with US President Joe Biden due in Jerusalem in two weeks.
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