Israeli lawmakers dissolved parliament on Thursday, forcing the country’s fifth election in less than four years, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid set to take over as caretaker Prime Minister at midnight.
After the unanimous 92-0 vote, the centrist Lapid embraced outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, whose year in charge of an unwieldy, eight-party coalition was ultimately undone by its ideological divisions.
Lapid, whose Hungarian-born father survived the Holocaust, went immediately to Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre after the parliament vote.
“There, I promised my late father that I will always keep Israel strong and capable of defending itself and protecting its children,” the 58-year-old said in a statement.
The newly called election set for November 1 marks another sign that Israel remains mired in an unprecedented era of political gridlock, with early opinion polls indicating the results may again be inconclusive.
The religious-nationalist Bennett has said he will not contest the vote and is stepping back from politics, tweeting the Hebrew word “Toda” (thank you), after lawmakers sealed his departure from office. He later hosted Lapid for a short handover ceremony.
Hawkish former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has assured that he and his allies — extreme-right nationalists and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties — will finally rally a majority, following what he described on Thursday as a “failed (coalition) experiment”.
“We are the only alternative. A strong, nationalist, responsible government,” said Netanyahu, who is on trial over corruption charges he denies.
Regarded by both allies and critics as a tireless political brawler, Netanyahu was already campaigning Thursday, telling shoppers at a Jerusalem mall that combatting rising living costs — which he blamed on Bennett’s “bad government” — will be his “first mission” after returning to office.
Israelis being forced to the polls for a fifth time since April 2019 highlighted their “deeply polarised reality”, said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank.
The only solution to such “dysfunction,” he said, were “long-over-due electoral and constitutional reforms”.
The November vote will in part be a contest between Netanyahu and Lapid, a former TV news anchor and celebrity who has surprised many since being dismissed as a lightweight when he entered politics a decade ago.
Lapid was the architect of the Bennett-led motley alliance that took office in June 2021, ending Netanyahu’s record 12 consecutive years in power and passing Israel’s first state budget since 2018.
Bennett led a coalition of right-wingers, centrists, doves and Islamists from the Raam faction, which made history by becoming the first Arab party to support an Israeli government since the Jewish state’s creation in 1948.