Israel Heads Back to the Polls

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Managing Editor & Research Associate, Middle East Policy Council

June 22, 2022

On Monday, June 20, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced their decision to dissolve Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Today, June 22, the Knesset “voted in a preliminary reading of a bill” to dissolve itself, an action supported by over 100 lawmakers. Opening the door to early elections on October 25, Israel would be heading to its fifth election in less than four years. If the bill is approved, Foreign Minister Lapid will become the interim prime minister until a new Cabinet is created after the October elections. 

The Knesset’s decision to dissolve itself can be traced back to the growing disagreements within the Lapid-Bennett coalition. Formed in June 2021, the coalition’s original purpose was to end former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 years in power after two years of political stalemate. However, recent issues regarding Palestinian statehood and various parliamentary defections further fragmented the coalition. 

Lebanon’s Naharnet analyzes the coalition’s pre-formation, explaining Bennett and Lapid’s main agreement being their mutual opposition to Netanyahu: Bennett and Lapid formed their coalition of parties united solely in their opposition to Netanyahu last year after four inconclusive elections in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Parliament was deadlocked between those who supported a Netanyahu-led government and those who refused to join forces with him while he was under indictment for corruption.”

Writing for the Jerusalem Post, former chief political correspondent and analyst Gill Hoffman highlights Bennett-Lapid’s thoughts behind the decision, stating they preferred to initiate elections themselves. Apart from Lapid becoming caretaker prime minister until the new elections, “he is set to greet U.S. President Joe Biden when he comes to Israel next month. At a Knesset press conference, Bennett said his move to initiate an election was ‘not easy’ but ‘the right decision.’ He said he did everything possible to maintain the government for longer. ‘Believe me, we left no stone unturned,’ Bennett said. He wished Lapid well, calling him a ‘mensch’ and vowing to ensure a smooth transition of power.”

Many Israeli politicians support Bennett-Lapid’s announcement. Carrie Keller-Lynn, correspondent for the Times of Israel, exemplifies the public opinion of Israeli politician Boaz Toporovsky: “Coalition whip Boaz Toporovsky from Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction defended Bennett’s decision to pursue dispersal, saying that it was for the ‘good of the state.’ ‘This is a sad day for democracy. We are doing it with a heavy heart but wholeheartedly, because the benefit of the state has always been and will be before any other benefit,’ said Toporovosky, adding that this was true even when up against ‘the benefit of politics.’ Toporovsky also charged that even at this last dismantlement phase, the opposition was reluctant to cooperate. ‘The opposition is still delaying the decision to go to elections. It is an opposition that has fallen in love with jamming the governing system,’ said Toporovsky.”

However, various Israeli politicians showcased their disapproval of the Bennett-Lapid coalition from the start. Correspondent Keller-Lynn continues her analysis with the focus on Likud faction chairman Yariv Levin. Levin,who sponsored one of the opposition’s nine dispersal bills, repeated past claims that the Bennett-Lapid government was ‘weak’ and ‘evil.’ Saying that it was ‘the worst government in Israel’s history,’ Levin added that the government ‘was established on the basis of blind hatred and an unprecedented embezzlement of voter confidence.’ His latter claim referred to the fact that the coalition was built on a platform of campaigning against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and charges that right-wing coalition parties betrayed voters by agreeing to join with left-wing and Arab lawmakers. ‘We are setting Israel today on a new path. From hatred to love,’ Levin said.”

The dissolvement of the Knesset opens the door to new elections and, accordingly, new leadership. The new vote could, however, place Netanyahu back in power. According to Al Jazeera, “Netanyahu has said he will return to office. ‘I think the winds have changed. I feel it,’ he declared. Netanyahu’s camp is now courting individual members of the Knesset, as well as entire parties, in an attempt to get them to defect. Opinion polls have forecast that Netanyahu’s hardline Likud will once again emerge as the largest single party. But it remains unclear whether he would be able to muster the required support of a majority of lawmakers to form a new government. Ultimately it will boil down to whether Netanyahu, who continues to face corruption charges and is an extremely divisive figure in Israeli politics, even on the right wing, will be able to convince enough politicians to back him again.”

Writing for Al Monitor, Rina Bassist implores the logistical side of the bill’s effects, both logistically and economically. “Once the bill is adopted, the Knesset will be dispersed and cease to vote on private bills until new elections take place. The government will continue to function as a transition Cabinet, which means it should not nominate senior officials unless it is an emergency. This raises the question of the nomination of the next IDF chief of staff. Also, the failure of extending regulations implementing Israeli criminal law on West Bank settlements was one of the issues cited by Bennett as a reason for his decision. With the Knesset dispersed before the regulations expire, they would be extended automatically, without a Knesset vote…Reports say that the new expected elections…would cost 3 billion shekels ($870 million). Reports further note that dispersing the Knesset would halt a series of economic reforms, including raising the minimum wage.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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