Israel’s weakened coalition government decided Monday to dissolve parliament and call a new election, the country’s fifth in three years.
Prime Minister Michael Bennett will step aside and be replaced by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid until lawmakers vote to dissolve parliament, according to a report.
Lapid and Bennett, who joined forces a year ago to oust former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 years of rule, said they would likely bring a bill to dissolve the Knesset next Monday, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“We are standing before you today in a moment that is not easy, but with the understanding we made the right decision for Israel,” Bennett said on Monday.
Bennett said he did all he could to preserve the government.
“Believe me, we left no stone unturned,” he said.
Lapid, a former journalist, will become interim prime minister until the election and until a new government takes power, the newspaper reported.
The vote, expected this fall, could bring about the return of a nationalist religious government led by Netanyahu or another prolonged period of political gridlock. The previous four elections, focused on Netanyahu’s fitness to rule while on trial for corruption charges, ended in deadlock.
Opinion polls have forecast that Netanyahu’s hard-line Likud will once again emerge as the largest single party. But it remains unclear whether he would be able to muster the required support of a majority of lawmakers to form a new government.
The dissolution threatened to overshadow a visit scheduled by President Joe Biden scheduled for next month. The US Embassy said it assumed that the visit would take place as planned.
Lapid thanked Bennett for putting the country ahead of his personal interests.
“Even if we’re going to elections in a few months, our challenges as a state cannot wait,” Lapid said.
The immediate cause for Bennett’s decision was the looming expiration of laws that grant West Bank settlers special legal status. If those laws were to expire, settlers would be subject to many of the military laws that apply to the territory’s more than 2 million Palestinians.
Parliament was to vote to extend the laws earlier this month. But the hard-line opposition, comprised heavily of settler supporters, paradoxically voted against the bill in order to embarrass the government. Dovish members of the coalition who normally oppose the settlements voted in favor of the bill in hopes of keeping the government afloat.
By dissolving parliament, the laws remain in effect. Bennett, a former settler leader, said that if he had allowed the laws to expire, there would have been “grave security perils and constitutional chaos.”
“I couldn’t let that happen,” he said.
with Associated Press