The coalition led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett removed the first major obstacle on its way to winding down the current government on Wednesday, passing the first of the four votes needed to break up the Knesset and force early elections.
Unable to agree even on a dissolution, the opposition and the coalition submitted several separate versions of the legislation – nine opposition bills and two versions of the coalition.
The coalition’s initial version was approved by 106 votes and one against, while all opposition bills passed by more than 89 votes. Everyone will now turn to the Knesset committee to decide which committee will prepare them for the next vote, the first reading.
The dissolution process requires four separate votes and two committee reviews, and is not expected to be completed on Wednesday. The Knesset is expected to complete the process next week, possibly as early as Monday.
Despite a relatively light hour-long debate over the bills, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy rejected attempts to praise the passage of 11 preliminary readings to dissolve the Knesset.
“No, no, no, stop,” said Levi.
On Monday, Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid stunned the nation by declaring their intention to voluntarily dissolve the Knesset and send Israel to its fifth elections since 2019.
After months of political instability that began losing its one-seat majority in early April and exacerbated by security tensions, Bennett and Lapid said they reached their decision after “exhausting” attempts to restore order in the coalition.
Following the expected dissolution, Lapid will serve as interim prime minister until a new government is sworn in after the elections.
Speaking on behalf of the government’s dispersal bill, coalition whip Boaz Toporovsky of Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction defended Bennett’s decision to pursue the dispersal, saying it was in the “interest of the state.”
This is a sad day for democracy. “We do it with a heavy heart but with sincerity, because the benefit of the state has always been and will be before any other,” Toporovsky said, adding that this was true even when it went against the “interest of politics.”
Toborowsky also charged that even in this last stage of deconstruction, the opposition was reluctant to cooperate.
“The opposition is still postponing the decision to go to the elections. It is an opposition that has fallen in love with disrupting the regime,” said Toporovsky.
Meretz MK Mossi Raz said the coalition faced an “unprecedented intent” amid an uphill struggle.
From day one, this government faced unprecedented incentives. The opposition has not abandoned its strategy of portraying the government as illegitimate… In the face of this incitement, three members of the Knesset from the right who could not stand their power bowed. “They are the ones who overthrew the government and we will move forward,” he said in the plenum.
After the elections, we will have another government in this model, but it has improved; With an Arab-Jewish partnership, without yielding to the threats of the right,” Raz said.
The head of the Likud faction, Yariv Levin, who sponsored one of the opposition’s nine dispersal bills, reiterated previous claims that the Bennett Lapid government was “weak” and “evil.”
It was “the worst government in the history of Israel,” Levin said, adding that the government was “established on the basis of blind hatred and the unprecedented mistrust of voters.”
His latest claim referred to the fact that the coalition was built on a campaign platform against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and accused the right-wing coalition parties of betraying voters by agreeing to join left-wing and Arab deputies.
“We are setting Israel today on a new path. From hate to love,” Levin said.
United United Torah Judaism MK Yitzhak Benders, as well as Levin, opened his remarks by reciting: ShishianoIt is a prayer that celebrates special occasions. Ultra-Orthodox leaders rejoiced at the imminent dissolution of the Knesset and government, and many attributed its downfall to divine intervention.
Just a year ago, the government was sworn in as a “government of change,” but MK Aida Touma-Sliman of the Opposition Joint List accused that it was bad for the Arab community.
The Joint List was previously allied with the List, which broke the traditional Arab political line to sit down with the coalition.
“The only change is the name change, from Netanyahu to Bennett,” said Touma-Sliman.
She added that “everything else is a continuation of the policy, especially with the settlements.”
Although both the government and the opposition agreed that the current coalition period would end, disagreement soon emerged over how the government would fall and under what terms.
The opposition is making last-ditch attempts to get around the government and end the coalition not through dissolution, but instead by exchanging the current government for one of its own.
The Likud-led opposition and its leader, Netanyahu, have the option of shortening the elections and immediately taking over the reins of power: If the 55-seat right-wing religious bloc can attract at least six more MKs, it can immediately form a new government within the current Knesset.
The opposition has pursued this strategy since April, when former coalition whip and Bennett’s Yamina party deputy, Edith Silman, quit the coalition and forced it to parity between 60 and 60 seats with the opposition. The opposition has reportedly tried to withdraw more defecting MKs from the right and center wings of the coalition, although after two and a half months, only one additional MK – Nir Auerbach, also from Yamina, has defected.
The coalition is a grand tent alliance of eight multi-spectrum parties, formed to prevent Netanyahu from continuing to the helm of Israel after 12 consecutive years in power.
Although it sought to avoid ideological barriers, political debates and security incidents – touching the core of ideological divisions – made a growing political alliance difficult.
Opposition leaders allied with Netanyahu publicly expressed confidence that their parties would win a majority in the elections, but behind closed doors, they were more fearful of voting, Channel 12 reported on Tuesday.
At the same time, opinion polls have shown that if the current political blocs remain static, the situation is likely to remain stalemate after the elections. Opinion polls have consistently shown that parties loyal to Netanyahu do better in the vote, but without a clear majority path. The Arab-majority Joint List, which does not support either side, maintains a balance of power.
But Bennett’s Yamina party has not said he will not sit with Netanyahu. Indeed, party dissidents are currently defending an alternative government headed by Likud, and Bennett’s Yamina partner – Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked – is said to be actively feeling the choice of allying with the largest right-wing party.
With right-wing seats, a right-wing religious coalition holds elections with enough force to build a narrow coalition.
Mansour Abbas, who heads the Islamist “List” party, has also said in the past that he will sit on the side of Likud. Abbas, who has turned the narrative of Arab politics on its head by joining a coalition, may need to attach his party to the upcoming coalition in order to give his political revolution another chance to show the results to his base.
For his part, Netanyahu criticized the coalition for accusing Abbas and the opposition majority Arab Joint List party, and said on Monday that he would not sit with Abbas.
Netanyahu is credited with healthizing the idea of including the list into a coalition, though he denies doing so. It was widely reported and claimed by Abbas that Ra’im and the Likud were in coalition negotiations in the spring of 2021, before they collapsed due to opposition to religious Zionism.
The Channel 12 report said opposition party leaders Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism, Aryeh Deri of Shas, and Bezalel Smotrich of Religious Zionism fear that far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir will alienate their voters. Ben Gvir’s popularity has grown, a far-right leader who leads Otzma Yehudit, folded under religious Zionism’s Smotrich rule, and may be in a strong position to make demands from Smotrich.
Elections are likely to take place in late October or early November.