Israel’s government collapses, setting up fifth election in three years


JERUSALEM — Israel’s governing coalition will dissolve parliament before the end of the month, bringing down the government and sending the country to a fifth election in three years, the prime minister said Monday.

The decision plunged Israel back into paralysis and threw a political lifeline to Benjamin Netanyahu, the right-wing prime minister who left office just one year ago upon the formation of the current government. Netanyahu is standing trial on corruption charges but has refused to leave politics, and his Likud party is leading in the polls.

Once parliament formally votes to dissolve, it will bring down the curtain on one of the most ambitious political projects in Israeli history: an unwieldy eight-party coalition that united political opponents from the right, left and center, and included the first independent Arab party to join an Israeli governing coalition.

But that ideological diversity was also its undoing.

Differences between the coalition’s two ideological wings, compounded by unrelenting pressure from Netanyahu’s right-wing alliance, led two right-wing lawmakers to defect — removing the coalition’s majority in parliament. When several left-wing and Arab lawmakers also rebelled on key votes, the coalition found it impossible to govern.

The final straw was the government’s inability last week to muster enough votes to extend a two-tier legal system in the West Bank, which has differentiated between Israeli settlers and Palestinians since Israel occupied the territory in 1967.

Several Arab members of the coalition declined to vote for the system, which must be extended every five years. That prevented the bill’s passage and prompted Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a former settler leader, to collapse the government and thereby delay a final vote until after another election.

“We did everything we possibly could to preserve this government, whose survival we see as a national interest,” Bennett, 50, said in a televised speech. “To my regret, our efforts did not succeed,” he added.

Expected to be held in the fall, the snap election will be Israel’s fifth since April 2019. It comes at an already delicate time for the country, after a rise in Palestinian attacks on Israelis and an escalation in a clandestine war between Israel and Iran. It also complicates diplomacy with Israel’s most important ally, the United States, as the new political crisis arose less than a month before President Joe Biden’s first visit to the Middle East as a head of state.

Biden will be welcomed by a caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid, the current foreign minister. The terms of the coalition agreement dictated that if the government collapsed because of right-wing defections, Lapid, a centrist former broadcaster, would take over as interim leader from Bennett.

Lapid will lead the government for at least several months, through the election campaign and the protracted coalition negotiations likely to follow.


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