Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has called the country’s fifth election in three years, marking the end of the most diverse ruling coalition in Israel’s history. Mr Bennett said Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a former news anchor turned centrist politician, would lead the country in the interim period, which could last several months. The two leaders, from opposite sides of the Israeli political spectrum, joined forces last year to oust then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The calling of new elections gives Mr Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving prime minister, a fresh shot at regaining power. The decision ends an unusual period in Israeli politics, when a coalition from the country’s centre, right, left and an independent Arab party came together for the first time to form a government. The coalition is now poised to be among the shortest-lived in Israel’s history, after marking its first anniversary recently.

The deep ideological differences of the coalition’s eight parties created an unwieldy alliance. Members clashed over policies related to West Bank settlements, Palestinians and questions of religion and state. Controlling just 61 of 120 seats in parliament from its outset, the coalition lost its majority in April after a member of Mr Bennett’s party resigned. The date of the next election has been announced as 1st November 2022.  Polling in recent months consistently shows that Mr Netanyahu’s party will remain by far the largest in parliament, and his popularity remains high among right-wing voters. Polls also show that Mr Netanyahu would likely remain just shy of the majority needed to form a government. The new election comes in the midst of increased conflict between Israel and Iran, after a wave of Palestinian attacks in Israel that shook the country’s sense of security, and ahead of this weeks visit to Israel by President Biden.

The immediate crisis facing the government was its inability to renew regulations needed to apply Israeli civil law to Jewish settlers in the West Bank owing to opposition from Arab members of the coalition, which angered right-wing politicians. The bill was opposed by Mr Netanyahu, who normally votes to support settlers but marshalled the opposition to vote against it in an attempt to embarrass the government and force it to collapse. With Israel now going to elections, the deadline to renew the regulations is automatically postponed. Speaking alongside Mr Lapid, Mr Bennett said he “left no stone unturned” in trying to save his government, but that new elections were the only way of preventing chaos and harm to Israeli security. Mr Lapid pledged to continue Israel’s widening campaign against Iran and militant groups opposing Israel, tackle the increasing cost of living and fight for reform to solve Israel’s political instability.

He thanked Mr Bennett for “putting the country before his personal interest”. “You’re a real friend,” Mr. Lapid told Mr. Bennett. Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute, said the call for elections “is a clear indication that Israel’s worst political crisis did not end when this government was sworn into office”. Mr Plesner said that the crisis, which had prevented stable management of the country for three years, stemmed from a split down the middle over Mr Netanyahu’s future, and that Israeli law makes it too easy for parliament to dissolve itself. “In governments with a small majority, it turns every backbencher into a kingmaker or into an instability instigator,” he said. Mr Plesner added that by including an Arab party in the coalition, the current government paved the way for a minority that makes up more than 20 per cent of the population to participate more in the political process.

Mr Netanyahu vowed to form a broad national government led by his Likud party. “The calling of new elections is great news for millions of Israeli citizens,” Mr Netanyahu said. Some politicians once aligned with Mr Netanyahu have pledged to oppose his return to power, saying the former prime minister had used his position for personal interests. Mr Netanyahu is on trial over corruption charges, which he has denied. “The goal in the next elections is clear, preventing the return of Netanyahu to power and enslaving the state for his personal interests,” tweeted Gideon Saar, a member of the anti-Netanyahu coalition who was once the former prime minister’s ally. Mr Netanyahu can still run for office despite his trial, which shows no signs of ending soon.

Avraham Diskin, a professor of political science at Hebrew University, said Mr Netanyahu’s chances of being re-elected were better than in recent elections because the right-wing religious and ultraorthodox parties that support him have grown in strength. “The chances of Netanyahu becoming prime minister are more than 50%, but it’s still not guaranteed,” he said. Mr Netanyahu had kept the opposition disciplined throughout the year, forcing the government to lose key votes and appear unstable. At the same time, he led a simultaneous campaign against right-wing politicians in the coalition. If Mr Netanyahu fails to get a clear majority, he might face a rebellion in his own party, Professor Diskin said, because right-wing politicians opposed to him had said they would form a government with the Likud party if someone else was leading it. “If you have a rebellion against Netanyahu within Likud everything is open,” he said.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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