JERUSALEM — Israeli lawmakers voted Thursday to dissolve parliament, topple the government, install an interim prime minister and send an exhausted electorate to a fifth election in less than four years.
The vote gives Benjamin Netanyahu, the right-wing former prime minister and current opposition leader, a chance to regain power. But while polls suggest Netanyahu’s party, Likud, will remain the largest party in parliament, they also show that his wider right-wing alliance could still struggle to form a majority coalition – extending the political deadlock in Israel and the chance of new elections is increased. in 2023.
The return to the polls, for the fifth time since April 2019, was greeted with frustration by many voters. Early elections have become a recurring event in a country where in recent years the electorate has remained consistent and evenly divided between supporters and critics of Netanyahu, preventing him or his opponents from forming a stable government backed by a parliamentary majority.
“I don’t have the energy to vote again,” said Maya Kleinman, 45, a biologist in the city of Rehovot in central Israel. “I feel like I’m being forced to vote. I feel like I’m being held hostage by petty and stinking politics.”
Netanyahu is currently on trial for corruption, and his suitability for office is likely to reframe the November 1 election as a referendum on his character.
The campaign is expected to spark a debate about the role of both the Jewish far-right camp in Israel and the country’s Arab minority within governing coalitions.
To return to power, Netanyahu will likely need the support of a hard-hitting nationalist alliance that many view as extremist. On the other hand, the outgoing governing coalition would most likely need the continued support of a small Islamist party to succeed. Israeli right-wing parties portray that party as a supporter of terrorism.
While the economy and national infrastructure rarely play a central role in Israeli election campaigns, voters are concerned about the rising cost of living, house prices and recent strikes by teachers and bus drivers.
Israel will be led through the election campaign by a new interim prime minister, Yair Lapid, a centrist broadcaster turned lawmaker, slated to take over at midnight Thursday night. Mr Lapid succeeds a right-wing Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, who stepped down in accordance with a pact made between the two men when they formed an alliance in June 2021 to replace Mr Netanyahu.
Mr Bennett said on Wednesday that he will not run in the next election but will remain in the current government as Mr Lapid’s second-in-command.
Mr. Lapid is taking office at a delicate moment, and President Biden will visit Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia in mid-July. For weeks, Israeli journalists have predicted that the US president’s visit could be accompanied by an announcement about a warming of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, two countries that have never had formal diplomatic relations.
If Israelis were ever surprised or even shocked by the speed at which they have gone to the polls since 2019, they have now reluctantly resigned, said Mitchell Barak, a political analyst and pollster in Jerusalem.
“At the moment, Israelis have pretty low expectations,” said Mr. Barak. Voters were shocked when they returned to the polls three times in 2019 and 2020. But at the fourth election in 2021, Mr Barak added: “It felt like this is exactly how we do things here.”
The vote confirms Israel’s status as one of the world’s most turbulent democracies. Since Netanyahu was first elected in 1996, Israel has held elections every 2.4 years — a more frequent percentage than any other established parliamentary democracy, according to data collected by the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based research group.
As a janitor, Mr. Lapid has little mandate to make broad policy changes.
His rise follows a recent increase in Palestinian attacks on Israelis, an escalation of a clandestine conflict between Israel and Iran, and the resumption of US-backed negotiations to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear program, talks Israel has criticized.
Mr. Lapid was Secretary of State in Bennett’s fragile and fragile coalition of right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Arab lawmakers, which set aside their differences last June to end Netanyahu’s tenure and give Israelis a break. giving a relentless cycle of early elections.
The coalition collapsed as several lawmakers eventually concluded that they were no longer willing to compromise their political ideology simply to keep Mr Netanyahu from power. Two right-wing coalition members defected after they felt the government had moved too far to the left, robbing the government of its narrow majority.
The final blow came when several Arab coalition members refused to expand a bipartisan justice system in the occupied West Bank, which has distinguished between Israeli settlers and Palestinians since Israel conquered the area in 1967 and which critics have called a form of apartheid. The system would have expired by the end of the month if Parliament had not been dissolved, prompting Mr Bennett, a former settler leader, to drop the coalition itself.
The government of Mr. Bennett secured his initial coalition majority by partnering with Raam, an Islamist party that was the first independent Arab party to serve in an Israeli government.
Netanyahu has strongly criticized Raam’s involvement in the coalition, accusing the party of opposing the state of Israel and declaring that it would not allow it to join the government.
In turn, Mr Netanyahu has been criticized for his reliance on an alliance of far-right parties called Religious Zionism, whose support he will most likely need to form a majority coalition. The leaders of religious Zionism include Itamar Ben-Gvir, a hard-hearted nationalist who until recently hung in his living room a portrait of Baruch Goldstein, an extremist Jewish settler who murdered 29 Palestinians in 1994 in a mosque in the city of Hebron on the West Bank. †
Supporters of the outgoing coalition praised it for keeping extremists like Mr Ben-Gvir out of power and for stopping Mr Netanyahu from changing the justice system to make it easier for him to avoid prosecution. Mr. Netanyahu denies any such intention.
Understand the collapse of the Israeli government
The Bennett administration was also proud to have made the government functional again after a period of paralysis during the last two years of Netanyahu’s tenure.
The coalition passed a budget, the country’s first in more than three years, and filled long-vacant senior positions in the civil service. It improved Israel’s relationship with the Biden administration and continued to improve ties with Arab states such as Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which first established diplomatic relations with Israel under Netanyahu.
Under Mr Bennett, Israel signed a comprehensive trade deal with the United Arab Emirates and announced a military partnership with some of its new Arab partners — an unthinkable move three years ago.
The Bennett administration also began to liberalize the regulation of kosher food; reduced tariffs on food imports; and, after the US Supreme Court decision to override the constitutional right to abortion, it became easier to request an abortion in Israel — one of the last acts before it left office.
It also oversaw the least violent year in Gaza for more than a decade, issuing thousands of new work permits to Palestinian residents of the area in the hopes that such entry might convince Gaza militants to reduce the number of rockets they fired at Israel. to decrease.
The government nevertheless maintained a blockade on Gaza. And it deepened Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, enabling the construction of thousands of buildings in Israeli settlements there.
For those on the left of the coalition, its policies toward Palestinians and Arabs in Israel went too far. For those on the right, they didn’t go far enough.
Exacerbated by Netanyahu’s relentless pressure, the policy conflicts eventually led the two main coalition members to defect, and others to vote against government laws.
While Netanyahu currently has the momentum, analysts and pollsters say the election is still too far off to make meaningful predictions about the outcome. Some polls show the neck and neck of Netanyahu’s alliance with the outgoing governing coalition, and much may depend on the negotiations following the election.
Many analysts predict the outcome will be inconclusive, leading to a sixth election in 2023. That could put Mr Lapid in charge for at least six months.
Mr Lapid, 58, is the leader of Yesh Atid, the second largest party after Likud. Unlike Mr Bennett, he supports the concept of a Palestinian state but agreed to suspend efforts to create one in order to convince right-wing people like Mr Bennett to join the coalition last year.
Once a television host and columnist, Mr. Lapid was first elected to parliament in 2013 and immediately became finance minister under Mr. Netanyahu. He later became leader of the opposition and gradually gained praise for his magnanimity in dealing with political partners.
Gabby Sobelman contributed from Rehovot, Israel, and Myra Noveck from Jerusalem.