Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have agreed to hold a vote on dissolving the Knesset next week, paving the way for Israel's fifth election in three-and-a-half years.
Bennett and Lapid said in a joint statement that they had "exhausted options to stabilize" their diverse coalition, a year after it was established.
If the vote passes, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid will become the caretaker prime minister until the elections are held on October 25th. Lapid will remain foreign minister, while Bennett will hold the role of alternate prime minister, though sources close to the prime minister say that he is weighing retiring from politics altogether.
In an emotional address, the prime minister said that it was "not an easy moment, but we took the right decision for the State of Israel."
Bennett added he "turned every stone" to save the coalition. "We did everything," he noted, while panning the "unprecedented politicization" in the Knesset.
Bennett expressed gratitude for his partnership with Lapid, who will become the interim prime minister in accordance with their agreements. "I will do everything to ensure he succeeds," Bennett said.
In his speech, Lapid stressed that "we cannot let forces of darkness destroy us from within," before reciprocating the thanks for his "friendship" with Bennett and praising him for "putting the country above his personal interest."
Sources from the Prime Minister's Office said that Bennett held a discussion with Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara on Friday, where he understood that there would be no way to pass the expiring emergency regulations extending Israeli civil law to the West Bank – after they failed to pass earlier this month. Once elections are called, the regulations are automatically extended.
As prime minister, Lapid will host U.S. President Joe Biden, who is still expected to visit Israel next month as planned, according to the U.S. Embassy Spokesperson in Israel.
Coalition despairs, opposition rejoices
In the corridors of Israel's parliament, the predominant feeling among members of the coalition was bewilderment. Many lawmakers were not informed in advance of the decision, made after a meeting between Bennett and Lapid, and were left to hear it from the media.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz was the first to respond publicly, stating that he believes "the government has done a very good job" and that "it is a shame that the country must be dragged to elections."
Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar also responded to the announcement: "As I've warned – the irresponsibility of certain coalition lawmakers has brought about the inevitable. The goal in the coming election is clear: preventing Netanyahu's return to power and enslaving the state to his interests."
“This government succeeded above and beyond,” said Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who heads Meretz. “This is a historic government that saved Israeli democracy. I’m proud of our part in it. We made an enormous effort to preserve it; its achievements will be remembered for many years. Meretz will continue to work on Israelis’ behalf and will fight for our values in the coming election.”
Mansour Abbas of the United Arab List said in a conversation with News Channel 12 that him and his party "want partners in the next coalition" as well as influence.
Referring to the fact that his party was the first Arab party in Israel's history to join a governing coalition, Abbas said "We've only just begun," he said, "and we also want partners and influence in the next coalition. Whoever wants to join this new approach of the United Arab List is welcome, and whoever wants to play a game of chairs – we're not with you. The Arab public wants influence."
Meanwhile, the head of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu, released a jubilant video on social media hailing the "great news," and pledged to establish a "national government… that would bring back national pride."
"It is clear to everyone that this government, the biggest failure in the history of Israel, is at the end of its road … a government dependent on supporters of terror, that neglected the personal security of citizens of Israel, and that raised the cost of living to new heights," the ex-PM said.
Religious Zionism Chairman Bezalel Smotrich said, “The nation of Israel lives! No more division and no more incitement. Soon, with God’s help, Jewish unity, Zionism and true patriotism will lead Israel.”
Earlier on Sunday, the Netanyahu-led Likud party submitted a bill to dissolve the Knesset, which was set to be put to a preliminary vote on Wednesday. This came after a two-and-a-half month period in which Israel's governing coalition was under intense strain following the defection of lawmaker Idit Silman in April.
Following Silman's defection, lawmaker Rinawie Zoabi resigned from the coalition in May and then returned – though she refrained from voting in the decisive vote on the West Bank 'emergency' regulations.
Earlier this month, sources in Bennett's party said right-wing lawmaker Nir Orbach was in "serious discussions" with Likud lawmaker Yariv Levin about possibly defecting to the opposition.