Israeli government dissolves parliament and calls new elections

By ILAN BENZION
Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s weakened coalition government decided on Monday to dissolve parliament and call new elections, the country’s fifth in three years.

The vote, expected later this year, could lead to the return of a religious nationalist government led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or another prolonged period of political stalemate.

In a nationally televised press conference, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said dissolving the government was not easy, but called it “a good decision for Israel”.

The fragile coalition government, which includes parties from all political stripes, lost its majority earlier this year and has faced rebellions from various lawmakers in recent weeks.

Foreign Secretary Yair Lapid will succeed Bennett on an interim basis in a deal they announced together.

Bennett listed a series of accomplishments and promised an “orderly” transition.

Lapid thanked Bennett for putting the country ahead of his personal interests.

“Even if we go to an election in a few months, our challenges as a state cannot wait,” Lapid said.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office announced on Monday that his weakened coalition would be disbanded and the country would head to new elections.

The election, scheduled for October or November, would be Israel’s fifth in three years. The election could also set the stage for a return to power of longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now the leader of the opposition.

Bennett has struggled to maintain his unruly eight-party coalition since taking office a year ago, and defections have left the alliance in shambles without a majority in parliament for more than two months.

Bennett and his main coalition partner, Yair Lapid, have decided to present a vote to dissolve parliament in the coming days, Bennett’s office said. Lapid is then to serve as interim prime minister.

Bennett formed the eight-party coalition in June 2021 after four successive inconclusive elections. It included a wide range of parties, from accommodating factions that support an end to Israel’s occupation of land captured in 1967, to hardline parties that oppose Palestinian independence. It made history by becoming the first Israeli coalition government to include an Arab party.

The alliance has achieved a series of achievements, including passing the first national budget in several years and navigating a pair of coronavirus outbreaks without imposing a lockdown.

But eventually that fell apart, largely because several members of Bennett’s hardline party objected to what they felt were compromises made by him to keep the coalition afloat and its perceived moderation.

The disbandment threatened to overshadow a planned visit next month by President Joe Biden. Israeli media quoted Biden’s ambassador Tom Nides as saying the visit would go ahead as planned.

Netanyahu said the impending dissolution of parliament was “good news” for millions of Israelis, and said he would form “a broad nationalist Likud-led government” after the next election.

Israel has held four inconclusive elections between 2019 and 2021, which were largely referendums on Netanyahu’s ability to rule while he was on trial for corruption. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

Opinion polls have predicted that Netanyahu’s hardline Likud will once again emerge as the largest single party. But it remains unclear whether he would be able to muster the required support from a majority of lawmakers to form a new government.