Israel’s Knesset voted to dissolve on Thursday morning, just over 14 months after it was convened and a year after the government was sworn in, sending the country toward its fifth election since 2019, scheduled for November 1.
Parliament voted to disperse 92-0.
Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Yair Lapid will formally succeed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett between Thursday and Friday at midnight. He will hold the post during the elections and until a new coalition is formed.
After the vote, Bennett and Lapid hugged and switched places, allowing Lapid to take the Prime Minister’s seat. A low-key formal handover ceremony from Bennett to Lapid was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Bennett will assume the title of Deputy Prime Minister and Lapid will retain the post of Secretary of State. The government’s remaining ministers will remain in office, and lawmakers will largely shift from legislation to campaigning.
Israel’s often unreliable opinion polls point to another tight campaign between parties supporting and opposing former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But while Netanyahu and his allies (Likud, Religious Zionism, Shas and United Torah Judaism) won 52 seats in the March 2021 elections that led to the Bennett-Lapid coalition, the polls have shown that the Netanyahu-led bloc now up to 58-60 seats in the House of 120 Members on the verge of a majority.
In addition, current political alliances can shift and several parties are polled close to the 3.25% threshold for Knesset representation.
In a fiery speech ahead of the dispersal vote, Netanyahu predicted that he and his allies would return to power, “restore national pride” and “put Israel back on track for success” after what he called the “failed experiment” of the Bennett experiment called. led government. Neither Bennett nor Lapid spoke at Thursday’s Knesset session.
Lapid, who has four months until Election Day to campaign against Netanyahu and gain his own permanent recognition as prime minister, will have the advantage of being the acting prime minister. In that role, he will receive President Joe Biden next month amid hints from American and Israeli leaders about forthcoming progress to strengthen Israel’s ties with key regional players.
On Wednesday night, Bennett announced his intention to take a break from politics, saying he would not be running in the upcoming election and handing leadership of his Yamina party to longtime ally Ayelet Shaked. But until a new government is formed, in his role as deputy prime minister, he pledged to offer Lapid any assistance he could, and he will continue to oversee Israel’s Iran policy.
As some lawmakers hugged and smiled after the lengthy process to reach the crucial vote on Thursday morning, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy had to tell revelers to get in line by saying, “This isn’t a wedding” and asking people to stay in their seats.
Although lawmakers a week ago overwhelmingly supported interim legislation to dissolve the Knesset, the full formal legislative process has been delayed by haggling between coalition and opposition parties over issues such as the upcoming election date and several key pending laws.
While the coalition won its preferred election date, it failed to find compromises needed to pass important legislation. A law that failed to pass before the Knesset was dissolved, the so-called Subway Act, would have allowed progress on an ambitious Tel Aviv-focused subway project. Another law the coalition and opposition failed to agree on would have put Israel on the path to visa-free travel to the United States.
Furious at the failure to pass the Metro Bill, Transport Minister Merav Michaeli’s key project, the Labor Party suspended the scatter vote. Legislation on the US Visa Waiver Program, meanwhile, fell through despite a direct appeal from US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides for lawmakers to put Israeli citizens first by voting in favour.
The decision to dissolve the Knesset came just before Israel was on the cusp of entering an unprecedented and chaotic legal position in the West Bank: West Bank settlers have Israeli legal status, although there is separate legal treatment for Palestinians living in the same places live, based on emergency regulations introduced by Israel in 1967, which must be renewed every five years. Current regulations were due to expire at midnight on Thursday, and in one of the events that hastened the coalition’s demise, the government was unable to rally support to pass the renewal against an opposition determined to even legislate to block, which supports them ideologically, to achieve the end of the government.
The regulations are now being automatically extended for six months as the Knesset dissolved before its renewal, leaving the struggle to the election campaign and the process of forming a new coalition.
Bennett cited this need to trigger an extension of the Settlers Act as one of the two immediate catalysts for his decision last week to turn off the lights on his own government. Second, a member of his own party was willing to vote to dissolve the Knesset, giving the opposition an apparent majority on the issue.
Last Monday, Bennett and Lapid surprised the nation and many of their coalition partners by announcing their intention to disband their coalition and send Israel to vote again. The grand tent coalition included parties from right, left and centrist corners of Israel’s political spectrum, including Ra’am, the first Islamist party to join a coalition. In an alliance formed to prevent then-Prime Minister Netanyahu from remaining in power after 12 straight years at the helm of Israel, the coalition struggled to put ideology aside and focus on socio-economic and governance issues .
However, it was the nationalist and ideological issues that ultimately broke the coalition apart. The coalition, which has struggled since losing its one-seat majority in April, ends up in a minority with 59 seats, with a number of MKs voting against the political alliance despite sitting with it.
In the debate ahead of Thursday’s scatter vote, Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovksy attacked her coalition counterparts for a lack of “discipline.”
“If you want to form a coalition, you have to learn discipline. That’s the takeaway we all need to learn here,” Malinowski said. Her comments came hours after coalition leaders rejected demands by the opposition as a price for supporting the metro law — demands including reversing the formal designation as a “defector” for one of Yamina’s MKs, Amichai Chikli, who died in the last year with the Netanyahu-led opposition.
While Malinowski’s comments echo many of coalition leaders in recent weeks – from Lapid to Attorney General Gideon Sa’ar – about the need to uphold coalition discipline, others chose to focus Thursday on where the coalition succeeded.
Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, always a coalition optimist, said the coalition had shown that cooperation between Israel’s Arabs and Jews was possible.
“It is possible to work together,” he told the plenary in the pre-dissolution debate, after speaking in Arabic.
“We didn’t realize there was one that big [gap] between all parties,” he added, saying instead that coalition problems were caused by individual MKs who didn’t share his understanding of the situation.
“I would give this coalition another mandate in the future to continue,” the Ra’am chief said.
Under the leadership of Netanyahu, the opposition MKs were less confident.
Consistent with previous messages, Netanyahu slammed the Bennett-Lapid government as a poor performer, which he claimed relied on “supporters of terror.” Netanyahu and opposition MPs routinely vilified Ra’am as a “terrorist” throughout the government’s tenure, although Netanyahu was widely reported to have campaigned for Ra’am himself last year in a failed attempt to form a coalition .
“Anyone who listens to the citizens of Israel can see that something fundamentally went wrong in our country over the past year,” Netanyahu said.
“Personal security has been undermined, national honor has been humiliated, fear of our enemies has increased, Israeli flags have been removed and PLO flags have been raised,” he said, referring to the Palestinian flag, which lawmakers recently state-funded to ban institutions decided.
“The cost of living is hitting us all in the pocket… The general feeling is that the state is being wiped out from under our feet. It’s a colossal failure by a government that has no vision… and no capacity to act.
“You promised change, talked about healing, conducted an experiment, and the experiment failed. That’s what happens when you take the false right and the extreme left, mix them up with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Joint List, that’s what you get. That’s what the upcoming elections are all about,” he said.
He said a Likud-led government would “restore pride, strength and hope to Israel.”
Netanyahu also added that he would not form a government that relied on Arab parties, echoing comments he made earlier this week.
Now that the dispersal is complete, the government transitions to caretaker status. The Legislative Plenary of the Knesset no longer meets unless convened by a majority of lawmakers.