Israel’s parliament is dissolving, setting fifth elections in four years

Israel’s parliament on Thursday voted to dissolve itself and send the country to the polls in November for the fifth time in less than four years.

Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign minister and architect of the outgoing coalition government, will become the country’s acting prime minister just after midnight on Friday. He will be the 14th person to hold the post, replacing Naftali Bennett, Israel’s shortest-serving prime minister.

The government collapsed just over a year after it was formed in a historic move that saw longtime leader Benjamin Netanyahu ousted after 12 years in power by a coalition of ideologically diverse parties, the first to include an Arab faction.

The dissolution motion passed by 92 MPs in favor and none, after days of coalition and opposition MPs bickering over the date of new elections and other last-minute legislation.

New elections will take place on November 1st.

The move formally ends a political experiment in which eight parties from across the Israeli spectrum were trying to find common ground after a period of prolonged deadlock when the country held four elections in two years.

The upcoming elections are a continuation of Israel’s protracted political crisis, centered on Netanyahu and his ongoing corruption trial. The four stalled elections in the previous three years were largely referendums on Netanyahu’s fitness for service while he faced charges of bribes, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.

Lapid, a former talk show host who runs a center-left party, is expected to campaign as caretaker prime minister to keep the job as the main alternative to Netanyahu, and is likely to get a boost soon when he welcomes President Biden to the country next Week.

Israeli media polls show Netanyahu and his allies gaining seats, although it is unclear whether they would be enough to form a 61-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset. If neither he nor anyone else succeeds in doing this, Israel could run for elections again.

On Wednesday, Bennett said he would be taking a break from politics and not running in the upcoming election. His Yamina party was torn and fragmented by infighting after forming a government last year, when its members broke away in protest at what they saw as Bennett’s over-compromises with more liberal coalition alliances.

The deathblow came earlier this month when the government failed to renew an emergency law that preserves the special legal status of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, a law most Israelis consider essential. As the Knesset was dissolved before the end of the month, the emergency law is automatically extended until after a new government is formed.

“They promised change, they talked about healing, they tried an experiment and the experiment failed,” Netanyahu said in an address to parliament ahead of the vote. “We are the only alternative: a strong, stable, accountable nationalist government.”

The outgoing governing coalition made history by being the first to include an Arab party. Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist Ra’am faction, joined the coalition to secure better services and more government funding for Israel’s Arab minority, who make up about 20% of the population.

Netanyahu and his allies have accused coalition members of working with terrorist sympathizers, although he reportedly wooed the party even after the last election.

Israel’s Arab citizens face widespread discrimination and are viewed by many Jewish Israelis as a fifth column because they have close family ties to the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and largely support their struggle for independence.

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