Israel’s weakened coalition government on Monday decided to dissolve parliament and call new elections.
The vote, expected later this year, could bring about the return of a nationalist religious government led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu or another prolonged period of political gridlock.
In a nationally televised news conference, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said it wasn’t easy to disband the government, but he called it “the right decision for Israel.”
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will take over from Bennett on an interim basis in an agreement they announced together.
The election, expected in October or November, would be Israel’s fifth in three years.
Bennett has struggled to keep his unruly coalition of eight parties together since it took office one year ago, and defections have left the crumbling alliance without a majority in parliament for over two months.
Coalition was formed after four inconclusive elections
Bennett formed the eight-party coalition in June 2021 after four successive inconclusive elections. It included a diverse array of parties, from dovish factions that support an end to Israel’s occupation of lands captured in 1967, to hardline parties that oppose Palestinian independence. It made history by becoming the first Israeli coalition government to include an Arab party.
The alliance made a series of accomplishments, including passing the first national budget in several years and navigating a pair of coronavirus outbreaks without imposing any lockdowns.
But eventually it unraveled, in large part because several members of Bennett’s hard-line party objected to what they felt were compromises made by him to keep the coalition afloat and his perceived moderation.
The dissolution threatened to overshadow a visit scheduled next month by President Joe Biden. Israeli media quoted Biden’s ambassador, Tom Nides, as saying the visit would take place as planned.
‘One of the longest funerals in history’
The election could also become an opportunity for longtime former prime minister Netanyahu, who is now the opposition leader, to return to power.
Israel held four inconclusive elections between 2019 and 2021 that were largely referendums about Netanyahu’s ability to rule while on trial for corruption. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing.
Opinion polls have forecast 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 of a majority of lawmakers to form a new government.
Netanyahu has mocked Bennett, a former close aide, saying last week that his government had been holding “one of the longest funerals in history.”
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