Israel to dissolve parliament and call 5th election in 3 years

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s weakened coalition government decided on Monday to dissolve parliament and call new elections, the country’s fifth in three years.

The vote, expected this fall, could lead to the return of a religious nationalist government led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or another prolonged period of political stalemate. The previous four elections, which focused on Netanyahu’s fitness to govern while he was on trial for corruption, ended in deadlock.

In a nationally televised press conference, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said dissolving the government was not easy, but called it “a good decision for Israel”.

The fragile coalition government, which includes parties from all political stripes, lost its majority earlier this year and has faced rebellions from various lawmakers in recent weeks.

Foreign Secretary Yair Lapid will take over from Bennett on an interim basis under a deal they announced together.

Bennett listed a series of accomplishments and promised an “orderly” transition.

Lapid thanked Bennett for putting the country ahead of his personal interests.

“Even if we go to an election in a few months, our challenges as a state cannot wait,” Lapid said.

Bennett formed the eight-party coalition in June 2021 after four successive inconclusive elections.

It included a wide range of parties, from pacifist factions that support an end to Israel’s occupation of land captured in 1967, to hardline parties that oppose Palestinian independence. Often described as a political “experiment”, it made history by becoming the first Israeli coalition government to include an Arab party.

The alliance has achieved a series of achievements, including passing the first national budget in several years and navigating a pair of coronavirus outbreaks without imposing a lockdown.

But eventually that fell apart, largely because several members of Bennett’s hardline party objected to what they felt were compromises made by him to keep the coalition afloat and its perceived moderation.

The proximate cause of Bennett’s decision was the impending expiration of laws that grant West Bank settlers special legal status. If these laws were to expire, the settlers would be subject to numerous military laws that apply to the more than 2 million Palestinians in the territory.

Parliament was due to vote to extend the laws earlier this month. But the radical opposition, largely made up of settler supporters, paradoxically voted against the bill in order to embarrass the government. Dovish members of the coalition who normally oppose settlements voted in favor of the bill in hopes of keeping the government afloat.

By dissolving the parliament, the laws remain in force. Bennett, a former settler leader, said if he had let the laws expire there would have been “serious security risks and constitutional chaos”.

“I couldn’t let that happen,” he said.

The disbandment threatened to overshadow a planned visit by President Joe Biden scheduled for next month. The US Embassy said it assumed the visit would go as planned.

Netanyahu described the impending dissolution of parliament as “good news” for millions of Israelis, and said he would form “a broad nationalist Likud-led government” after the next election.

Israel has held four inconclusive elections between 2019 and 2021 that were largely referendums on Netanyahu’s ability to rule while he was on trial for corruption. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

Opinion polls have predicted that Netanyahu’s hardline Likud will once again emerge as the largest single party. But it remains unclear whether he would be able to muster the required support from a majority of lawmakers to form a new government.

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