Coalition heads announce vote to dissolve Knesset next week, Lapid to be interim PM

After months of dysfunction, Israel’s 24th Knesset is set to come to an end, as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced Monday that they would submit a bill next week to voluntarily dissolve the Knesset.

The dramatic joint statement by the two architects of the so-called change government, which put an end to 12 straight years of the Benjamin Netanyahu premiership, said that all efforts to save the government had been “exhausted,” due to numerous rebellions by wayward MKs.

Bennett and Lapid were due to address the public at 8 p.m.

Following the Knesset’s dissolution, Lapid is slated to become caretaker prime minister until a new government is sworn in, as per the original coalition agreement. Bennett is expected to become alternate prime minister, a post Lapid currently holds, and will also be responsible for the “Iran file,” Hebrew media reports said.

Given legal and holiday constraints, new elections are expected at the end of October, possibly the 25th.

According to Channel 12 news, the coalition was seeking to hold the preliminary vote on the bill on Monday.

The announcement by Lapid and Bennett came during the latest push by the opposition to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections, as the disparate coalition has struggled to survive since losing its parliamentary majority in April.

Parties that back the government now only hold a minority of Knesset seats, after MK Nir Orbach of Bennett’s Yamina party quit the coalition last week.

Yamina MK Nir Orbach attends an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset, June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A source familiar with Monday’s announcement said Bennett was motivated to back dissolving the Knesset because Orbach planned to vote soon to do so — a move that the 59-seat minority coalition could not prevent, if all opposition members vote in favor.

It was also seen by commentators as a bid by coalition leaders to take back the initiative, after being dragged from crisis to crisis.

Bennett was also reportedly intent on preventing the measure extending Israeli law to West Bank settlers from expiring at the end of this month. A vote to extend the long-standing measure failed earlier this month after the opposition voted against it, despite backing it ideologically, in order to embarrass the government. The measure will be automatically extended if the Knesset dissolves. Its expiration would have plunged hundreds of thousands of settlers in chaos.

According to Channel 12 news, Bennett and Lapid met with fellow coalition leaders and updated them on the move. A source in Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party said he had not known about the final decision until it was made. Similarly, a source in Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party said the justice minister was also not informed.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, the No. 2 in Yamina, was notified by Bennett ahead of the announcement, though she was not consulted about it in advance, political sources said. The two have been long-time political allies, though their partnership may now be coming to an end.

A former Yamina lawmaker confirmed that the faction meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon had been canceled and that most party members had not been informed of Bennett’s decision in advance.

“We knew this was one of the possible scenarios, but there was no faction meeting today,” Yomtob Kalfon said.

“It makes sense that [Bennett] did this. It’s very military,” Kalfon added, as the move allows Bennett to leave the Prime Minister’s Office on his own terms. “It’s leading, not being led.”

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, on June 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition parties had been considering putting forward a bill to disperse the Knesset for a preliminary vote on Wednesday, but were unsure if they had majority support. The opposition has been weighing such a measure for several months, but former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has been reluctant to bring forward such a bill, as a failure to pass it would mean that any similar proposal would be blocked for a period of six months.

If successful in the preliminary vote next week, for which only a simple Knesset majority is required, the bill to dissolve the Knesset will then need to pass three further Knesset votes with the support of at least 61 of the 120 MKs.

A Knesset dispersal bill is one of three ways to topple the government. The others are a successful no-confidence vote of at least 61 MKs, or a government’s failure to pass a timely budget.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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