Israel is scheduled to hold elections again in November, for the fifth time in less than four years. Nearly six months ahead of the renewed tryst with democracy, the Knesset (parliament) has voted to dissolve itself. Thursday’s dissolution of the central legislature means that Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign minister and architect of the outgoing coalition government, is the country’s caretaker Prime Minister. It is open to question whether fresh elections can put in place a stable government. Lapid will be taking over from Naftali Bennett, Israel’s shortest-serving prime minister. Fresh elections will be held on November 1. The move brings a formal end to a yearlong experiment in which eight parties from across Israel’s political spectrum tried to find common ground after a period of prolonged political gridlock in which the country held four elections in two years.
The upcoming elections are an extension of Israel’s protracted political crisis, with the former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ongoing corruption trial being at the core of the imbroglio in a crucial swathe of the Middle East. The four deadlocked elections in the previous three years were largely referendums on his fitness to serve while facing charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu, who heads the biggest party in Israel’s parliament, the right-wing Likud, has denied any wrongdoing. Lapid, a former talk-show host who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, is expected to campaign as caretaker Prime Minister to keep the job as the main alternative to Netanyahu, and will likely get an early boost when he welcomes President Joe Biden to the country next month.
Polls by Israeli media show Netanyahu and his allies gaining seats, although it is unclear whether they would have enough to form a 61-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset. If neither he nor anyone else succeeds in doing so, Israel could go to elections yet again. Bennett said on Wednesday that he would be “taking a hiatus” from politics. Specifically, he would not be running in the upcoming elections. His Yamina party was riven by infighting and splintered following the formation of the government last year as its members broke away in protest against what they considered Bennett’s excessive compromises to more liberal coalition allies.
The crippling blow came earlier this month, when the government failed to renew an emergency law that preserves the two-tier legal system in the occupied West Bank, with Israeli civil law applying to Jewish settlers living in illegal settlements, while military law applies to Palestinians. Because the Knesset was dissolved before the end of the month, the emergency law is automatically renewed until after the formation of a new government. “They promised change, they spoke 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, responsible nationalist government.” He must hope that a majority of his countrymen agree.