By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner
Israeli lawmakers will vote next week to dissolve the parliament, thus necessitating the country’s fifth election in just three years.
Bennett will step aside to be replaced by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, his partner in the fragile eight-party coalition coalition that included far-right, liberal, centrist and Israeli-Arab parties.
Members of Israel’s 35th government were deeply divided on matters ranging from religion to the Palestinian conflict, and had faced growing pressures as its slight parliamentary majority dwindled due to defections.
“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 in a televised statement as he stood alongside Lapid.
Bennett, a former IDF commando and tech millionaire who entered national politics in 2013, defended his government’s record, saying it had boosted economic growth, cut unemployment and eliminated the deficit for the first time in 14 years. But as pressure on the government increased in recent days, he was unable to hold the coalition together and decided to step aside before Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party could table a motion of its own to dissolve parliament.
Standing side-by-side, Bennett and Lapid hailed achievements by their government and repeatedly underscored the spirit of partnership, truthfulness and cooperation as the hallmarks of their relationship and political disposition.
Netanyahu was quick to pledge a political comeback. “We are getting rid of the worst government in Israel’s history,” the Likud faction leader said, proclaiming his intention to form “a strong, national, steady government.” He added that he perceived change of atmosphere that would garner greater support at the ballot box that would usher in his return to the premiership.
Recent polls indicate that none of the political blocs would win a sufficient number of mandates necessary to form the next government. Opposition Member of Knesset (MK) and leader of the Israeli-Arab Ta’al party, Ahmad Tibi, nevertheless held out hope that a new coalition could emerge prior to the dissolution.
“The coalition is dissolving. We are going to elections, most probably end of October, November. I have met Yair Lapid an hour ago to discuss the probable date for the new elections. Still, this is not 100 percent final because we are talking about months of the possibility that Netanyahu can do something else. There are parts of the right-wing who are willing to have an alternative coalition during this Knesset, but we think that the right thing to do is to go to elections,” he said.
Political sources in Jerusalem have acknowledged to TV7 that Netanyahu and his political partners have already been proactively engaged with a number of right-wing MKs to form a viable coalition.
Prime Minister Bennett has instructed National Security Council Director Dr. Eyal Hulata, and his Military Secretary, Major General Avi Gil, to prepare a thorough and in-depth transition plan that focuses on the core diplomatic and security issues, ahead of the transition date.
Israel’s political turmoil comes just weeks ahead of a planned visit by United States President Joe Biden – who the government had been counting on to help boost regional security ties against the nation’s arch-enemy Iran.
“I think the government did very good work over the past year. It’s a shame the country has to be dragged into elections,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz, head of the centrist party Blue and White party member of the coalition, adding, “But we will continue to function as a temporary government as much as possible.”.
In the meantime, Incumbent-Premier Lapid said he would not wait until new elections to address the urgent issues facing the nation.
“We need to tackle the cost of living, wage the campaign against Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, and stand against the forces threatening to turn Israel into a non-democratic country,” he said in the statement delivered alongside outgoing-Prime Minister Bennett.
The Palestinian Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza, who do not recognize Israel’s right to exist, declared it does not matter who leads the Jewish State.
“We must ‘resist’ to regain the full rights of our people,” said Hamas Spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum, in a vow to continue terrorist activities against Israel and its people.