Beleaguered Israeli Gov’t To Pre-emptively Dissolve Knesset, Go to Elections
In the interim period until a new government is formed, Yair Lapid will become prime minister
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternative Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced Monday night that they would submit a bill next week to dissolve the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, sending the country back to elections for a fifth time in just three and a half years.
Next week the Knesset will vote to dissolve itself. After that, we are going to elections.
If, as expected, the bill passes, Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, who currently serves as foreign minister, will become prime minister – Israel’s 14th head of government – for the interim period until the election takes place and a new government is formed.
The upcoming election would probably be scheduled for late October – October 25 has been mentioned as a likely date.
Dr. Ilana Shpaizman, a lecturer in the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Media Line that “next week the Knesset will vote to dissolve itself. After that, we are going to elections. The government will become a caretaker government. Lapid will be the prime minister.”
There may be additional cabinet changes as well, said Shpaizman. “Perhaps, for example, [Justice Minister and New Hope party leader Gideon] Sa’ar will become the foreign minister.”
The move comes after months of internal unrest in the governing coalition, which comprises parties from the center, right, and left, including an Arab-majority Islamist party.
Members of Knesset representing parties from both the right and the left within the coalition have at times voted against the government, effectively eliminating the government’s thin majority in parliament and reducing the coalition to minority status. At the same time, Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu has not been able to attract enough support to piece together the majority that would be needed to form an alternative government under his own rule.
The move by Bennett and Lapid is meant to take control of the political situation and avoid further defections and defeat in a no-confidence motion, which could have led to the formation of a new government under Netanyahu without the need for new elections.
Earlier on Monday, the government defeated two no-confidence votes with the help of opposition MKs from the Arab-majority Joint List, who preferred to sit out the vote rather than lend a hand to Netanyahu’s return to power.
Rajel Leghziel, an independent Israeli political analyst, told The Media Line that Bennett “understood that his government and coalition would not hold any longer, and he preferred to dissolve the Knesset before the opposition does.”
Some of the weakest links in the coalition have come from the prime minister’s party, Yamina. Many party supporters were furious when their votes, which they assumed would strengthen a right-wing government, were instead used to prop up a coalition that included the center and left of the political spectrum, as well as an Islamist Arab party.
Yamina MK Idit Silman, under intense pressure from discontented party supporters, resigned from the coalition in April.
When the party made moves to declare her a defector, which would have limited her ability to run in the next election, Silman lashed out particularly at another Yamina MK teetering on the edge of rebellion, Nir Orbach.
Bennett tried for a long time to persuade Orbach to support the coalition. He probably realized that he couldn’t and therefore the government has lost its majority and there is no way to maintain the government.
The local Israeli press reported that Silman threatened to reveal embarrassing information about financial impropriety by Orbach while he was a member of the Jewish Home party, if he cooperated with the party’s moves to punish her own defection. Ultimately, Orbach announced that he too was leaving the coalition, at least until it passed an extension of the emergency regulations that apply Israeli criminal and civil law to West Bank settlers.
Another coalition rebel, MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi from the left-wing Meretz party, voted with the opposition against the extension, as did Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim, while other Ra’am lawmakers, along with Yamina’s Silman, absented themselves from the Knesset rather than support the coalition on this key vote.
Shpaizman said that Orbach’s defection was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. “Bennett tried for a long time to persuade Orbach to support the coalition,” she said. “He probably realized that he couldn’t and therefore the government has lost its majority and there is no way to maintain the government.”
Leghziel said Bennett’s announcement that he would dissolve the Knesset was meant to “avoid the security and legal chaos” that could have resulted from the failure to extend the settlers’ legal status, which expires at the end of the month. “He knew that some of his own partners in the coalition will not support the renewal of the legal regulations and the only way to extend the regulations is to pass the law or dissolve the Knesset,” she said.
In the interim period, a Lapid-led government, though legally constrained from undertaking major new policy initiatives, will still need considerable political dexterity to function.
“The issue is that the coalition today does not have a majority, so even for [routine legislation], they will need the support of votes from the opposition. Lapid is holding some talks with the Joint List for this purpose.”
The rotation of the premiership to Lapid is a result of his coalition agreement with Bennett, which stipulates that if the government falls because of internal rebellion, the interim prime minister will be the leader of the side that is not responsible for the breakdown. Because the current crisis is mainly due to a rebellion on the right, among Yamina MKs, the premiership goes to the leader of the coalition’s center-left component, Lapid.
It might be an advantage for Lapid if he turns out to be a good prime minister. But it could also be risky for him. COVID is back. There is tension with Iran. Housing prices are rising. All that and more can backfire at the election because he is the one who will be held responsible
Shpaizman says that being head of the caretaker government holds both opportunities and risks for Lapid.
“It might be an advantage for Lapid if he turns out to be a good prime minister,” she says. “But it could also be risky for him. COVID is back. There is tension with Iran. Housing prices are rising. All that and more can backfire at the election because he is the one who will be held responsible.”
Lapid on Monday night thanked his coalition partner, Bennett, “for the responsibility he is showing today, for the fact that he is putting the country before his personal interest.”
The alternative prime minister went on to speak emotionally about his friendship with the outgoing prime minister. “I love you,” Lapid said, directly addressing his longtime friend and erstwhile political rival. “Our friendship was put to the test and met obstacles along the way, but we always overcame them.”
“Prime Minister Bennett is younger than me and we still have a road ahead of us together. He’s a vital Israeli leader, innovative and brave, and I have no doubt that his place is in the leadership of this country for many years to come,” Lapid said.
Nevertheless, for Bennett, the future is more unsure. Leghziel said that the outgoing prime minister “is quite burned out politically now. It could be good for him to take a step back and even take a break from the political arena.”