Jerusalem24 – Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced last night he was proposing a bill to dissolve the Knesset, leading alternate prime minister Yair Lapid to take his place and paving the way for new elections to go forward in late October.
This would mark the fifth time Israelis head to the polls in under four years.
The Times of Israel said neither the defense nor the interior ministers knew about the surprise move ahead of its announcement yesterday evening.
The announcement comes after weeks of speculation that the coalition was on the brink of collapse. Bennett’s coalition has been threatened by a string of resignations lately, and it further risked losing a crucial vote next week concerning an extension to the so-called West Bank bill, which allows Israeli settlers to be ruled by Israeli civil and criminal law rather than the military law imposed on Palestinians.
Passing the law was seen as a litmus test of whether or not Bennett’s coalition could survive.
Bennett said he had made “the right decision” in the interests of Israel’s security, since dissolving the Knesset will now automatically extend the West Bank law until a new government is voted in.
Sources close to Bennett told Israeli daily Haaretz that he is weighing retiring from politics altogether.
The bill to dissolve the Knesset will go to a vote next week, and if it passes as expected, Bennett will make way for Yair Lapid to become interim prime minister. The two men formed the coalition last year after a protracted series of elections finally ousted Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader.
Netanyahu, who is currently standing trial on corruption charges he denies, said the impending dissolution was “great news for millions of Israeli citizens.”
Last week, the results of an Israel Channel 12 TV poll indicated that a bloc led by Netanyahu would win most seats in a fresh election, though still two short of a majority.
US ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides said yesterday that President Biden’s visit to the Middle East, due to take place just three weeks from now, will likely proceed as planned despite the impending dissolution of the Knesset, dispelling fears that Israeli political turmoil could imperil the visit.
A U.S. embassy spokesperson said in a statement, “We have a strategic relationship with Israel that goes beyond any one government.”
Biden is scheduled to spend two days in Israel and the West Bank before heading to Saudi Arabia on a four-day tour in mid-July. This will be Biden’s first Middle East tour since taking office.
If the Knesset is dissolved next week, Yair Lapid will be prime minister by the time Biden begins his visit.