JERUSALEM – Israel’s governing coalition will vote next week to dissolve parliament, topple the government and send the country to a fifth election in three years, the prime minister’s cabinet and two coalition officials said Monday.
The decision casts a political lifeline for Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister who left office last June when forming the current government, and whose party currently leads the polls.
It follows weeks of paralysis caused by the defection of two right-wing government legislators and frequent uprisings by three others, removing the coalition majority in parliament and making it difficult to govern.
The elections are expected to be held in the fall and will be the fifth in Israel since April 2019. It comes at an already tense time for the country, after an increase in Palestinian attacks on Israelis put pressure on the government, and amid of an escalation in a shadow war between Israel and Iran.
The terms of the current coalition agreement dictate that in the event that right-wing defectors lead to snap elections, Yair Lapid, the foreign secretary and a centrist former broadcaster, would take over as interim prime minister, while Prime Minister Naftali Bennett would step aside. . If that agreement is fulfilled, Mr Lapid will guide the government for at least several months through the election campaign and the protracted coalition negotiations that are likely to follow.
The government was initially vulnerable due to the ideological incompatibility of its eight constituent parties — a fragile alliance of right-wing, left-wing, secular, religious and Arab groups that joined forces only last June after four indecisive elections in two years left Israel with no state budget or functional government.
The coalition was cohesive enough to pass a new budget, Israel’s first in more than three years; make important administrative agreements; and deepen Israel’s emerging relations with key Arab states. But its members regularly clashed over the rights of Israel’s Arab minority, the relationship between religion and state, and settlement policy in the occupied West Bank — clashes that eventually led to two key members defecting and others voting against government laws.
The coalition members only agreed to work together last year because of a shared desire to oust Netanyahu, the right-wing former prime minister. Netanyahu’s refusal to resign despite being on trial for corruption had alienated many of his natural allies on the right, leading some of them to join their ideological opponents in removing him from office.
The new elections give Netanyahu another chance, once again trying to win enough votes to form his own majority coalition. But his path back to power is far from clear.
Polls suggest his party, Likud, will easily be the biggest in the next parliament, but its allies may not have enough seats to allow Netanyahu to gain a parliamentary majority. Some parties can also agree to work with Likud only if Netanyahu steps down as party leader.
This dynamic could lead to months of protracted coalition negotiations, returning Israel to the stasis it was in before Netanyahu’s departure, when his administration lacked the cohesiveness to enact a national budget or fill key positions in the civil service.