Just over one year ago, eight parties from across Israel’s broad political spectrum joined together in a governing union with one overriding goal: Ending Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 12 years in power.
For many in Israel, the United States and around the world, the notion that a broad spectrum of political parties — from right to left and including Jewish and Arab Israelis — could unite for the shared purpose of defending democracy, was a hopeful sign.
Yesterday, after 372 days of relative stability, that coalition collapsed.
Ultimately, divisions between left and right, exacerbated by an ongoing pressure campaign from Netanyahu’s right-wing opposition, pushed two right-wing MK’s to defect, splintering the coalition’s ability to renew key legislation required to maintain Israel’s legal system in the West Bank.
“If the settlements law expires there will be chaos,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Israelis. “We decided to go for elections in order to prevent that.”
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Speaking one after the other, the two leading coalition partners from the right and center-left — Prime Minister Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid — explained that the divorce was amicable, the terms clear.
The pair had agreed that the Knesset would vote this week to hold new elections, that Lapid will assume the Prime Ministership for the caretaker period, and that Israelis will likely go back to the polls, potentially in October, for the fifth time in just four years.
“I will help Lapid to assume office in the most orderly fashion possible,” Bennett pledged.
“Prime Minister Bennett has put the country before his own interests,” Lapid said. “You are a friend and I love you.”
US Ambassador Tom Nides has confirmed that President Biden’s trip to Israel this July “will happen as planned” — though it seems the president will likely now be welcomed by a newly minted Prime Minister Lapid and a government in caretaker mode.
For his part, Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the government’s collapse as “great news.”
The former Prime Minister, still standing trial for corruption charges, now has yet another opportunity to regain the Prime Ministership after his repeated failures to form a government plunged Israelis into a series of deadlocked elections in recent years.
While it seems unlikely, Netanyahu may even be able to return to power without new elections, if he’s able to stop the Knesset voting for new elections and build a coalition within the current parliament, with support from defected right-wing MKs.
While Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party continues to poll well ahead of its competitors, the indicted former Prime Minister still faces an uphill battle in pulling together a majority of lawmakers willing to back his return.
Eulogies of the Bennett-Lapid government are still being written, but the government not only ended Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 12 years in power, it gave Israeli voters a glimpse of Jewish-Arab political partnership, not to mention a 12-month reprieve from the ballot box.
While the coalition government passed a budget, achieved important advancements for LGBT+ Israelis and pushed forward with secular reforms, it also moved ahead with West Bank displacement, demolition and settlement plans, despite strong protest from progressive and Arab coalition members.
As Israelis prepare for yet another protracted election campaign — and as Joe Biden prepares for his first trip to the region as president — J Street will continue to press for clear, confident principled American leadership to stand up for Israel’s democratic future, protect Palestinian rights and ensure a free, equal and peaceful future for all.