Edited by: Fern Sidman
Opposition MKs celebrated the Israeli government’s announcement Monday of the dissolution of the 24th Knesset, even as center-right Coalition lawmakers doubled down on their staunch opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu returning to power, according to a report on World Israel News. New elections are planned for the end of October, after the Jewish high holidays are completed.
On Monday night, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called for the dissolution of the current Knesset, saying that calling new elections would be “the best decision to make for Israel.”
Monday’s dramatic announcement to dissolve the Knesset and send Israel to elections for the fifth time in 40 months came after months of uncertainty, as was reported by WIN.
The government was sworn in a little over a year ago and led by Bennett was a coalition of ideologically disparate parties ranging from the right-wing Yamina, Yisrael Beiteinu and New Hope, to the centrist Yesh Atid and Blue and White, the left-wing Labor and Meretz and the Arab Islamist Ra’am party.
The current Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will become interim prime minister in the process.
WIN reported that in June 2021, Bennett signed a coalition agreement with Lapid, the leader of the center-left Yesh Atid party, to form a government. As part of the bargain, Bennett agreed to a rotation agreement which would see him serve as Prime Minister for two years, then pass the baton to Lapid.
The agreement contained a caveat that if Bennett or the coalition’s right-wing parties were responsible for the fall of the government, Lapid would assume the role of caretaker prime minister until the next election, as was reported by WIN.
In this role, Lapid would meet with President Biden should he visit the region as scheduled in July.
On Tuesday, Israel National News reported that Lapid is currently speaking with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
INN reported that the two discussed President Biden’s visit to Israel next month. The Foreign Ministry said that “the visit will be an opportunity to emphasize the President’s deep personal connection to Israel, the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security, and the strengthening of Israel in the region.”
“The visit will have significant implications for the region and the fight against Iran, as well as immense potential to significantly improve regional stability and security.”
Lapid briefed the Secretary of State on his upcoming flight to Turkey and on the joint counterterrorism activities with the Turkish government.
The collapse of the ruling coalition drew cheers from opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu – Bennett’s predecessor – who predicted that the Likud would quickly return to power, as was reported by WIN.
While Netanyahu castigated the Bennett government for its reliance on an Islamist party, the United Arab List (Ra’am), and accused the government of endangering Israel’s Jewish character, other Opposition lawmakers claimed the coalition pursued “far-right” policies.
“This government implemented a radical far-right policy of expanding settlements, destroying houses, and carrying out ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories,” Joint Arab List MK Aida Touma-Suleiman said in a statement, as was reported by WIN. “It threw crumbs to the Arabs in exchange for conceding fundamental political principles.”
WIN also reported that the U.S. has thus far declined to comment on the developments in Jerusalem, except to confirm that President Joe Biden’s planned trip to Israel next month will not be affected by the collapse of the Israeli government.
“We have a strategic relationship with Israel that goes beyond any one government. The President looks forward to the visit next month,” a White House official said, CNN reported.
Celebrating the announcement that the Knesset would be disbanded, Netanyahu said in a statement on Monday that “it is clear to everyone that the worst government in Israeli history has come to an end.” JNS.com reported that he noted that the announcement was preceded by a year of “determined struggle by the opposition in the Knesset and great suffering by the Israeli public.”
The former prime minister and the longest serving one vowed to “restore national pride” by forming “a wide, strong, and stable national government.”
He also promised that he would not join Mansour Abbas of the Ra’am party in a government, as was reported by WIN.
Abbas, on the other hand, told Arabic-language radio that his only red line was not joining a government with Religious Zionism’s Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who have a “fascist and racist view of the world.”
Government ministers and Coalition MKs pointed fingers concerning the government’s collapse but remained largely unified in their goal of keeping Netanyahu from returning to power, as was reported by WIN.
Health Minister and chairman of the left-wing Meretz faction Nitzan Horowitz blamed Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party for the government’s collapse, accusing Yamina MKs of being unable to work with left-wing and Arab lawmakers.
“Meretz is not at fault for the breakdown of the government,” Horowitz told Galei Zahal Tuesday morning, as was reported by WIN.
“The ones who pushed for this are a number of Yamina MKs, who couldn’t take the partnership with us and with the Arabs.”
WIN reported that MK Eli Avidar (Yisrael Beytenu) also blamed Yamina for the government’s collapse, lamenting that coalition members were “very naïve” to trust Yamina.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope) and Finance Minister Avidgor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) both doubled down on their pledges never to join a government with Netanyahu.
“I won’t help bring back Bibi,” Sa’ar told Kan on Tuesday. “It wouldn’t be good for the country – it would be exactly the opposite. We need to do everything possible to prevent further elections, and that is what we did for a long period.”
Liberman went so far as to call keeping Netanyahu from returning to office his party’s “main goal” in the upcoming elections and laid the blame for the government’s fall entirely on Netanyahu, as was reported by WIN.
Liberman said: “Yisrael Beytenu’s main goal in this election is to prevent Benjamin Netanyahu from returning to power. The elections now are a result of intrigue, lies, and the subversion committed by one man – his name is Benjamin Netanyahu. And the same is true of all the previous elections.”
The Yamina party hinted it may be open to forming a new government with Netanyahu, however, with the party’s CEO, Stella Weinstein, telling Radio 103FM that Yamina will do everything in its power to avoid further snap elections, as was reported by WIN.
“We never focused on personal politics, Weinstein said. “We cannot let Israel be dragged into another election just because there is someone we could form a government with that I’m not thrilled about.”
Yohanan Plesner, a former Kadima lawmaker who now serves as president of the Israel Democracy Institute, lamented the decision to dissolve the Knesset and call for snap elections, saying the move was evidence that after three years, Israel remains engulfed in its worst political crisis ever.
“The decision by Prime Minister Bennett to disperse the Knesset and head to a fifth election in just three years, is a clear indication that Israel’s worst political crisis did not end when this government was sworn into office, but rather merely receded only to return when this coalition failed to find a way to continue moving forward,” Plesner said Monday night, as was reported by WIN.
“While the Bennett-Lapid government undoubtedly played an important role by passing a budget and moving forward with other important legislation, this crisis ongoing will not come to an end until Israel’s leaders put their political differences aside and enact long-over-due electoral and constitutional reforms.”
The Israel Democracy Institute noted that with the fall of the Bennett government, Israel now leads the world in elections, with new elections on average once every 2.4 years since 1996. That is the shortest average duration of a national legislature among the 21 parliamentary democracies compared by the IDI, according to the WIN report.
A poll released Tuesday predicts another deadlocked election in which both blocs would fail to secure the majority needed to form a government.
WIN reported that the poll published by Radio 103 FM shows that the bloc led by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu would secure 59 of the Knesset’s 120 seats if elections were held today. Altogether, the bloc of the current disbanded coalition would win 55 seats.
Netanyahu’s Likud party would receive 36 seats, while Yesh Atid, the party headed by Foreign Minister and soon-to-be interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid, would come in second with 20 seats.
In an article that appeared on Monday on the Jewish News Syndicate (JNS.com) web site, Jerusalem bureau chief Alex Traiman wrote that, “Netanyahu, who controls the parliament’s largest ideologically aligned bloc and has increased his popular support, sits in pole position to form a new government should a new election be held.”
He added that, “a predominantly right-wing government, led by Netanyahu, would represent the will of the clear majority of Israeli voters. Right-wing parties received 72 seats in the last election. Left-wing parties secured 38 seats. Arab parties received 10 seats.”
Religious Zionism and the Blue and White party would receive 10 and 8 seats, respectively, while the leftwing Meretz party would fail to pass the election threshold, as was reported by WIN.
The Arab majority Joint List party is predicted to hold onto its 6 Knesset seats.
WIN also reported that the Shas party is predicted to drop 2 seats, bringing them to down to 7, and United Torah Judaism will lose one seat, leaving them with 6, according to the poll.
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu is predicted to drop from 7 seats to 5.
WIN reported that Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party and the Arab Ra’am party, led by one-time kingmaker Mansour Abbas, will barely meet the threshold with four seats apiece.
Traiman at JNS also wrote that “the “change coalition” was motivated by a single unifying factor: a desire to replace Netanyahu after 12 years in power. This came despite the fact that most Israelis continue to prefer Netanyahu in the top job. The change movement was motivated in large part by criminal trials against Netanyahu that are proving in court to be full of both holes and inappropriate conduct by state prosecutors.”
He added that the nation “never chose Lapid, who could not have formed a government without right-wing defectors. And the nation certainly did not choose Bennett, who leaves his post with the backing of only four party members. A mere 96 percent of the public chose somebody other than Bennett to be prime minister—a point that ultimately did not deter Bennett from taking the post.”
Lapid, who was born and raised in Tel Aviv was a well-known TV news anchor and journalist before he entered politics in 2013, as was reported by WIN.
During his IDF service, Lapid worked as a writer for the Bamahane military press. After his service, he wrote for Hebrew language newspaper Ma’ariv, and was appointed the editor of daily Yediot Ahronot.
Lapid’s father, Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, was a prominent journalist who once served as Israel’s Justice Minister, according to the WIN report.
The elder Lapid was known for his staunch secularism, and during his time in the Knesset, became infamous for his blistering rhetoric against ultra-Orthodox Jews (choice remarks included calling them “barbaric primitives” and “parasites.”)
He also made several attempts to promote legislation which imposed a separation of religion and state, which failed, as was reported by WIN.
Although Yair Lapid has extended overtures to ultra-Orthodox political parties, he is largely distrusted by the community as a whole due to his father’s reputation.
WIN reported that Yesh Atid scored an unprecedented 19 seats in its debut election, and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to partner with the party for a broad unity government.
Although Yesh Atid brands itself as a centrist, liberal party, some critics have said the party is more left-leaning than it admits, as was reported by WIN. However, far-left parties like Meretz have attacked Yesh Atid for being too right-leaning.
The party’s agenda lists universal military service for all Israelis, including ultra-Orthodox Jews who are currently exempt from the draft, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, which would see the end of construction of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and increased secular policies, like civil marriage and more public transportation on Shabbat, as cornerstones of its platform, according to the WIN report.
Yesh Atid’s stance on LGBT issues largely resembles that of the Democratic Party in the U.S., with the party saying it believes individuals should be able to change their gender on their identity card based on self-identification, without needing to undergo surgical treatment. The party also floated the idea of mandatory LGBT-related curriculum in Israeli schools, including in religious educational institutions, in 2019.