The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, voted Thursday to dissolve itself, triggering new elections.
On Friday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will officially take over as caretaker prime minister under the terms of a coalition agreement made between outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Lapid last year. Because Lapid – a former journalist and star TV anchor – is a caretaker prime minister, there will be no formal swearing-in ceremony.
Thursday’s 92-0 vote finally concludes the slow motion ending to Bennett’s run as prime minister – one of the shortest terms in Israeli history – and gives former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a potential path to return to power.
As the vote concluded, Lapid and Bennett wrapped their arms around each other, hugged and switched seats so that Lapid was sitting in the prime minister’s position.
When they were departing the Knesset floor, Bennett accidentally took Lapid’s cellphone. “My brother,” Lapid said, “you took my phone.” Bennett replied, “My brother, you took my job.”
New elections will be held on November 1 – the fifth round of voting for Israelis in less than four years. Recent polling shows former prime minister Netanyahu’s Likud party on track to win the most number of seats, but the polls do not show that his right-wing bloc will necessarily have enough seats to gain a parliamentary majority and be able to form a ruling government.
Speaking on the parliament floor before the dissolution vote, Netanyahu vowed to return to power.
“We are the only alternative: a strong national government, stable and responsible. A government that will return the national honor to the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
The night before the dissolution, Bennett announced he would be stepping back from politics and would not run for re-election.
“I will remain a loyal soldier of this country, which I have served all my life as a soldier, officer, minister and prime minister. The State of Israel is the love of my life. To serve her is my destiny,” Bennett said in a speech to the nation. “Now is my time to step back a little. Look at things from the outside.”
The coalition government had been teetering for weeks. But Bennett and Lapid’s announcement last week that they wanted to dissolve their own government and hand power to Lapid came as a surprise.
“In the last few weeks, we did everything we could to save this government. In our eyes, the continuation of its existence was in the national interest,” Bennett said earlier this month, standing alongside Lapid.
“Believe me, we looked under every rock. We didn’t do this for ourselves, but for our beautiful country, for you citizens of Israel,” Bennett added.
The Bennett-Lapid government was sworn into office in June last year bringing an end to Netanyahu’s premiership, which had lasted more than 12 years.
Made up of no fewer than eight political parties, the coalition stretched right across the political spectrum, including for the first time an Arab party, led by Mansour Abbas.
United in a desire to prevent Netanyahu – whose corruption trial had already begun in May 2020 – from remaining in power, the disparate coalition partners agreed to put their substantial differences to one side.
Although it notched significant domestic and diplomatic achievements, it was internal politics that ultimately brought the coalition down.
Recent weeks have seen a number of coalition members either quitting, or threatening to quit, leaving the government without a majority in parliament to pass legislation.
The political impasse came to a head earlier this month, when a Knesset vote failed to uphold the application of Israeli criminal and civil law to Israelis in the occupied West Bank.
Among other things, the regulation, which comes up for renewal every five years, gives Israeli settlers in Palestinian territories the same legal treatment as they have within Israel’s borders, and is an article of faith for right-wing members of the coalition, including Prime Minister Bennett.
But two members of the coalition refused to support the bill, meaning it failed to pass.
Because parliament dissolved before the law expired on July 1, the regulation will remain in place until a new government is formed, at which time it will again go up for a vote.
Andrew Carey contributed to this report.