JERUSALEM – Israeli lawmakers voted on Thursday to dissolve parliament, topple the government, install a caretaker prime minister and send an exhausted electorate to the fifth election in less than four years.
The vote will give the right-wing former prime minister and current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu a chance to seize power. But while polls show that Mr. Netanyahu’s party, Likud, will remain the largest party in parliament, they also show that his broader right-wing coalition may still struggle to form a majority coalition – Israel’s political deadlock. and increase the likelihood of another election in 2023.
The return to the ballot box for the fifth time since April 2019 was greeted with disappointment by many voters. Snap elections have become a recurring fact of life in a country where voters in recent years have been consistently and evenly divided between Mr. Netanyahu’s supporters and critics, giving him or his opponents a stable support by a parliamentary majority. prevented from forming the government.
“I have no energy to vote again,” said Maya Kleinman, 45, a biologist in the city of Rehovot in central Israel. “I feel like I am being forced to vote. I feel like I am being held hostage by petty and foul-smelling politics.”
Mr Netanyahu is currently on trial for corruption, and his fitness for office is likely to lead to re-election on 1 November as a referendum on his character.
The campaign is expected to intensify debate about both the role of the Jewish far-right camp in Israel and the country’s Arab minority within governing alliances.
To return to power, Mr. Netanyahu will probably need the backing of a hardline nationalist coalition that many consider to be extremist. On the other hand, the departing governing coalition would need the continued support of a smaller Islamic party to be successful. The Israeli right-wing portrays that party as a supporter of terrorism.
While the economy and national infrastructure rarely play a central role in Israel’s election campaigns, voters are concerned about rising costs of living, housing prices and recent strikes by teachers and bus drivers.
Israel will be led by a new interim prime minister, Yair Lapid, a centrist broadcaster-turned-MP who was due to take office at midnight on Thursday. Mr Lapid will replace a right-wing prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who resigned in June 2021 according to a deal sealed between the two men over forming a coalition to replace Mr Netanyahu.
Mr Bennett said on Wednesday he would not run in the next election but would remain in the current government as Mr Lapid’s second-in-command.
Mr Lapid enters office at a delicate time, with President Biden set to visit Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia in mid-July. For weeks, some Israeli journalists have predicted that the US president’s visit could coincide with a declaration of warming ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, two countries that have never had formal diplomatic ties.
Michelle Barak, a political analyst and pollster in Jerusalem, said that if Israelis were once surprised or shaken by the rate at which they have gone to the polls since 2019, they are now resigning.
“Up until this point, the Israelis have little hope,” Mr Barack said. Voters were shocked to return to the ballot box three times in 2019 and 2020. But by the fourth election in 2021, Mr Barack said, “it’s like we do things here.”
The vote cements Israel’s position as one of the world’s most troubled democracies. Since Mr Netanyahu was first elected in 1996, Israel has held an election every 2.4 years – a more frequent rate than any other established parliamentary democracy, according to Data Compiled By a research group based at the Israel Democracy Institute, Jerusalem.
As a caretaker, Mr. Lapid has little mandate to implement sweeping changes to policy.
His ascent comes after the recent escalation of Palestinian attacks on Israel, the escalation of a secret conflict between Israel and Iran, and the resumption of US-backed talks to get Iran to curb its nuclear program, which Israel has criticized. Of.
Mr Lapid was the foreign minister in Mr Bennett’s fragile and fractured coalition of right-wing, centrist, leftist and Arab lawmakers who put aside their differences last June to end Mr Netanyahu’s term and give Israelis a relentless break. Gave. snap election round
The coalition fell apart as several lawmakers eventually concluded they were no longer willing to compromise their political ideology to keep Mr Netanyahu out of power. Two right-wing members of the coalition, after realizing that the government had gone too far on the left, denied the government its narrow majority.
The final blow came when several Arab coalition members refused to expand into the occupied West Bank, a two-tier legal system that has differentiated between Israeli settlers and Palestinians since Israel occupied the region in 1967. and which critics call a form of apartheid. If Parliament had not been dissolved, the system would have collapsed at the end of the month, prompting Mr. Bennett, a former settler leader, to dismantle the coalition himself.
Mr. Bennett’s administration achieved its initial coalition majority by partnering with Ram, an Islamist party that was the first independent Arab party to serve in an Israeli government.
Mr Netanyahu strongly criticized Ram’s participation in the coalition, accusing the party of opposing the state of Israel and declaring that he would not allow it to participate in the government.
Mr Netanyahu, in turn, has been criticized for reliance on a coalition of far-right parties called Religious Zionism, the support of which he will most likely need to form a majority coalition. Leaders of religious Zionism include Itamar Ben-Gavir, a staunch nationalist who recently hung in his living room a portrait of Baruch Goldstein, an extremist Jewish settler who killed 29 Palestinians at a mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994. was murdered. ,
Supporters of the late coalition praised him for keeping extremists like Ben-Gavir out of power and preventing Netanyahu from changing the legal system to make it easier for him to avoid prosecution. Mr Netanyahu has denied any such intentions.
Understand the Fall of Israel’s Government
The Bennett administration also took pride in re-functionalizing the government after a period of paralysis during Mr. Netanyahu’s last two years in office.
The coalition passed the country’s first budget in more than three years, and filled long-vacant senior positions in the civil service. It improved Israel’s ties with the Biden administration and continued to improve relations with Arab states such as Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which previously had diplomatic relations with Israel under Mr. Netanyahu.
Under Mr. Bennett, Israel sealed a comprehensive trade deal with the United Arab Emirates and announced a military partnership with some of its new Arab partners – a move unimaginable three years ago.
The Bennett government also began to liberalize regulation of kosher food; lower duties on food imports; And, following a US Supreme Court decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion, it made it easier to seek abortion in Israel – one of its final acts before leaving office.
It observed the least violent year in Gaza for more than a decade, giving thousands of new work permits to Palestinian residents of the region, in the hope that such access would give terrorists in Gaza the same number of rockets fired at Israel. can agree to reduce it.
The government nevertheless maintained a blockade on Gaza. And it deepened Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, allowing the construction of thousands of buildings in Israeli settlements there.
For those on the left side of the coalition, its policies on Palestinians and Arabs in Israel went too far. As for those on the right, they didn’t go very far.
Due to relentless pressure from Mr Netanyahu, policy conflicts eventually led two key members of the coalition to defect, and others to vote against the government bills.
While Mr. Netanyahu currently has momentum, analysts and surveyors say the election is still too far to make any meaningful predictions about its outcome. Some polls show Mr Netanyahu’s coalition neck-and-neck with the late governing coalition, and much may depend on post-election talks.
Many analysts predict the result will be inconclusive, leading to a sixth election in 2023. This allows Mr Lapid to remain in charge for at least six months.
Mr Lapid, 58, is the leader of Yesh Atid, the second largest party after Likud. Unlike Mr. Bennett, he supports the concept of a Palestinian state, but last year agreed to postpone efforts to create one to persuade right-wingers like Mr. Bennett to join the coalition.
Once a television host and columnist, Mr. Lapid was first elected to parliament in 2013 and immediately became finance minister under Mr. Netanyahu. He later became the Leader of the Opposition, and gradually gained praise for his generosity in dealing with political partners.
Gabi Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel and Myra Noveck from Jerusalem.