Israel’s parliament voted on Thursday to dissolve itself and paved the way to the country’s fifth election in less than four years after a fragile governing coalition collapsed.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will become interim prime minister, replacing Naftali Bennett, until a new government is formed following elections on Nov. 1. Bennett does not intend to run in the next vote. Lapid and Bennett announced their plan to dissolve Israel’s parliament, known as the Knesset, on June 20.
Thursday’s vote throws Israel back into renewed political instability just weeks ahead of US President Joe Biden’s first Middle East visit next month. The government’s collapse also comes at a sensitive time for Israel as it looks to expand regional security and defense partnerships with Arab countries while engaging in an increasingly overt shadow war with Iran.
Bennett’s year-old coalition had grouped together an uneasy alliance of secular and religious factions, hawks and doves, free marketeers and social democrats, as well as an Arab party for the first time in Israeli history. Internal divisions ultimately proved too much.
For opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who was Israel’s longest-serving premier, the demise of the coalition could present an opportunity to return to power. He tried to form an alternative right-wing government that could take over from Bennett’s without the need to dissolve parliament but was not able to garner enough support.
The timing of the Jewish new year means the election period will last longer than usual, extending Lapid’s time as acting prime minister, a period which coincides with Biden’s visit.
Lapid’s ascent comes about a decade after the former television presenter and author first entered Israeli politics on a centrist platform. He was previously finance minister under Netanyahu.
The outgoing coalition, bound together by its members’ strong opposition to Netanyahu, succeeded in passing the country’s first budget in three years in November, but has since struggled to govern amid growing disagreement over a range of issues, from police conduct during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to the legal status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Netanyahu’s Likud party is leading opinion polls but prominent right-wing politicians including Gideon Saar and Avigdor Liberman have repeatedly vowed not to sit with Netanyahu in government while he fights corruption and bribery charges in court. That complicates the 72-year-old’s path to forming a government even if he wins the elections.
Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party is on track to remain the second-biggest party in parliament.