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Netanyahu again?

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

The government in Israel has collapsed, sparking fresh elections and a possible return to power for Benjamin Netanyahu. After weeks of speculation, the current Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett,announced the government would submit a bill to dissolve the Knesset next week, thereby ending Israel’s 36th government. Mr Bennett’s coalition partner,the current foreign minister Yair Lapid, will assume the role of acting Prime Minister for a minimum of 90 days.

Factoring in religious holidays,elections are likely to be held some time in October, the fifth in three years.The current coalition, barely a year old, had been teetering for weeks after it lost its Knesset majority following defections. It assumed power in June 2021, bringing an end to Netanyahu’s 12 years at the helm of governance.It had gradually been losing authority and a vote of no confidence, tabled by opposition parties, was expected this week, prompting Mr Bennett and Mr Lapid to jump before they were pushed.

Mr Lapid as acting PM, will now welcome President Biden to Israel when he visits next month. Mr Netanyahu, who has twice been Israel’s Prime Minister, has recently been embroiled in a court case defending allegations of corruption. But he remains a powerful figure in Israeli politics. Although Israel remains bitterly split politically, Mr Netanyahu is still popular amongst a significant section of the population, but he has struggled in the past elections to form decisive coalitions. He has spent much of his time in opposition actively under mining the coalition government and encouraging opposition parties to vote against government bills, culminating in the defeat of a bill earlier in the month, restoring certain rights to Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Voting against the renewal of that legislation went against MrNetanyahu’s politics and was seen to be brazenly opportunist; it also alienated some of his supporters. However, the Bibi-factor, so-called, will almost certainly dominate the election campaign, and what he says and does will determine much of the course of the coming months as Israel prepares to go to the polls again. “I think the winds have changed and I can feel it,”was Mr Netanyahu’s immediate response. It would be useful to recall that the four previous elections were riveted to Mr Netanyahu’s fitness to rule while facing a corruption investigation. Small wonder that Israel’s trysts with democracy ended in deadlock. Opinion polls have projected Mr Netanyahu, who is now on trial, as the front-runner.

However, it is far from certain that his Likud party can secure the required parliamentary majority to put in place a government in Tel-Aviv. It was with considerable effort that Mr Bennett had formed his government a year ago with the professed aim of halting the cycle of elections. Israel, a crucial swathe of the Middle East, is on the turn.