Updated Jun 20, 2022 - World

Israel coalition agrees to dissolve parliament and hold early elections

Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett.

Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett. Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his coalition partner Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have decided to hold a vote on dissolving the Knesset next week and call for an early election, the Prime Minister's Office announced Monday.

Why it matters: The collapse of the government comes less than a month before President Biden's visit to Israel, which is planned for July 13. According to the rotation agreement between Bennett and Lapid, once the Knesset is dissolved and an election is called, Lapid will become the acting prime minister.

  • Lapid will also continue as foreign minister, while Bennett will become the alternate prime minister and will hold the Iran file in the interim government.

Between the lines: The collapse of the government is further proof that the political crisis that has engulfed Israel since 2019 is still very much alive.

  • This will be the fifth election in Israel within four years.

Driving the news: Bennett and Lapid in recent weeks have tried to renew a law regulating Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The law is set to expire at the end of this month.

  • Nir Orbach, a member of Bennett's party, announced last week he was leaving the coalition because the law hasn't been renewed.
  • Bennett pressed Orbach, a right-wing lawmaker and a close confidant, to stay in the coalition but failed to convince him. The last meeting between the two exploded with Orbach giving Bennett an ultimatum that if the "settlements law" doesn't pass within a week, he will vote with the opposition in calling an election.

Behind the scenes: According to two senior sources in the coalition, Bennett was the one who initiated the move after realizing that he couldn't pass the law and couldn't convince Orbach to continue supporting the coalition.

  • The sources said Bennett and Lapid decided to cut their losses and initiate the move rather than be dragged into it and lose more political support in the process.

What they're saying: "It is not an easy moment but we took the right decision," Bennett said Monday.

  • "We did everything we could to maintain this government. We didn't leave any rock unturned," he added. "Last Friday, I understood that when the settlements law expires there will be chaos. We couldn't let that happen. Therefore we decided to go for election in order to prevent that."
  • Bennett called Lapid a person of integrity and said that while they had disagreements, they understood they "had more in common."
  • "I will help Lapid to assume office in the most orderly fashion possible," he added.

Lapid said, "We need to fight the forces who are trying to turn Israel into a non-Democratic country. We need to return to the unity of Israel."

  • He also praised Bennett, saying he has "put the country before his own interests. You are a friend and I love you."

Meanwhile, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the coalition's decision "great news" and said he wants to form a wide national government after the elections.

  • "It is clear to everyone that this government, the biggest failure in the history of Israel, is at the end of its road," Netanyahu said in a video posted to Twitter. He claimed the current government was one that was "dependent on supporters of terror, that neglected the personal security of citizens of Israel, and that raised the cost of living to new heights."

What's next: Elections are likely to take place at the end of October after the Jewish High Holidays.

  • Lapid, as acting prime minister, will be the one who welcomes Biden at the airport when he arrives next month.
  • U.S. ambassador to Israel Tom Nides told Axios that "President Biden's trip to Israel will happen as planned."

Editor's note: This story and headline have been updated with new details throughout.

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