Israel’s Government Collapses

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Israel is on track for its fifth election in less than four years after Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he would move to dissolve the country’s parliament, the Knesset, this week in a surprise Monday announcement.

The move comes weeks before U.S. President Joe Biden is set to visit, and adds another chapter to Israel’s continuing political turmoil. New elections are now expected in late October.

In Bennett’s telling, the government will be dissolved in order to preserve the two-tier legal system that separates Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the West Bank. With regulations granting settler protections set to expire at the end of the month and their extension mired in parliamentary gridlock, Bennett said the dissolution—which automatically extends the law until a new government is formed—was necessary to avoid “security risks” and “constitutional chaos.”

In reality, Bennett’s governing majority had been eroding for months as lawmakers in his broad and tenuous coalition defected or lost faith in the government. Haaretz reports that Bennett made the Monday decision in order to pre-empt rebel and opposition lawmakers who were set to vote to dissolve the Knesset themselves later this week. (Religious parties, who were left out of the coalition, hailed the collapse and credited divine intervention.)

The move opens the door for Benjamin Netanyahu—who is still on trial facing corruption charges—to potentially return as prime minister. His Likud party is on track to remain the largest in parliament in fresh elections, likely to take place in October, although whether he can win enough seats to build a working majority remains to be seen.

The visit of U.S. President Joe Biden, itself seen as a chance to buoy Bennett’s coalition, is now searching for a purpose. The White House on Monday said Biden still plans to make the journey, which includes a controversial stop in Saudi Arabia.

The trip comes at an opportune time for Yair Lapid, who would have become prime minister in August 2023 under the terms of a rotation agreement. He will now serve as caretaker prime minister during Biden’s visit, and hold the role until a new government is formed.

“In all of Netanyahu’s victories, with the exception of his first, he was the interim prime minister. And Lapid will now occupy that position, which will strengthen his hand going into elections.” Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East advisor to six U.S. secretaries of state and now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

No fan of Netanyahu, Biden has a chance to help tip the scale in Lapid’s favor and grant him a statesmanlike sheen with the upcoming visit. “Israelis put a lot of stock in how their prime ministers handle Israel’s most important relationship,” Miller said. “It’ll be fascinating to see what signs and signals the administration sends over the next three or four months as we enter the prime ministerial sweepstakes.”,


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