As Israel once again goes to the polls, Netanyahu has the edge, but he's not unbeatable

June 21, 2022

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (above, left) is set to become Israel's transitional prime minister as Naftali Bennett steps aside and fresh elections are called



[Note by Tom Gross]

Israel's government collapsed last night, marking the end of the most diverse ruling coalition in Israel's history, and just a few days after it marked its first anniversary in office.

Naftali Bennett becomes Israel's shortest-serving prime minister. Personally I think he has done relatively well, as I said in this short TV interview last week. But others would say his government was doomed to fail from the start and fail it did.

New elections will be held, likely on October 25, the country's fifth election in just over three years.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads Likud, Israel's most popular political party, is favorite to win and return to office according to polls, but it's not a forgone conclusion.


Under the outgoing coalition agreement, Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a former news anchor turned centrist politician, becomes interim prime minister for the next few months, and will host U.S. President Joe Biden when he visits Israel in three weeks from now before Biden travels on to Saudi Arabia.

Lapid is set to become Israel's 14th (and perhaps shortest-serving) prime minister, and the third not to come from a party which is neither Labor nor Likud.

In a hastily called press conference yesterday evening Lapid thanked Bennett for "putting the country before his personal interest."

"You're a friend and I love you," Lapid told Bennett.


Netanyahu vowed to form a broad national government led by his Likud party. "This is an evening of great news for millions of Israeli citizens," Netanyahu said, calling the Bennett coalition the "biggest failure in Israeli history".

Lapid as interim prime minister now has about four months to convince Israeli voters he should stay in the job for longer.

For those interested in Israeli politics, I attach articles about the collapse of Israel's government from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, JNS and Haaretz.

-- Tom Gross


Tom Gross (left), senior British cabinet minister Michael Gove (center) and outgoing Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett (right). Bennett, 50, is relatively young. He may take a time-out from politics now, but I believe we may see his return to political life in later years.



Israel Heads for New Elections as Coalition Moves to Dissolve Parliament

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is expected to be the transitional prime minister as Naftali Bennett steps aside

By Dov Lieber
The Wall Street Journal
June 20, 2022 5:12 pm ET

TEL AVIV -- Israel's prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said Monday he would move to dissolve Parliament and call for the country's fifth election in three years, marking the end of the most diverse ruling coalition in Israel's history.

Mr. Bennett said Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a former news anchor turned centrist politician, would lead the country in the interim period, which could last several months. The two leaders, from opposite sides of the Israeli political spectrum, joined forces last year to oust then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The prospect of new elections gives Mr. Netanyahu, the country's longest-serving prime minister, a fresh shot at regaining power.

The decision ends an unusual period in Israeli politics, when a coalition from the country's center, right, left and an independent Arab party came together for the first time to form a government. The coalition is now poised to be among the shortest-lived in Israel's history, after marking its first anniversary last week.

The deep ideological differences of the coalition's eight parties created an unwieldy alliance. Members clashed over policies related to West Bank settlements, Palestinians and questions of religion and state. Controlling just 61 of 120 seats in Parliament from its outset, the coalition lost its majority in April after a lawmaker from Mr. Bennett's party resigned.

The exact date of the next election won't be known until Parliament dissolves, but it is likely to take place in late October or early November, an adviser to the coalition said. Analysts said it was unlikely Mr. Bennett would backtrack on his election decision despite his Yamina party's slide in the polls.

For Parliament to dissolve, lawmakers will need to pass the bill several times. No date has been set for the vote, but the coalition leaders said they would bring it to the plenum floor next week.

Polling in recent months consistently shows that Mr. Netanyahu's party will remain by far the largest in Parliament, and his popularity remains high among right-wing voters. Polls also show that Mr. Netanyahu would likely remain just shy of the majority needed to form a government.

The prospect of another election comes in the midst of increased conflict between Israel and Iran, after a wave of Palestinian attacks in Israel that shook the country's sense of security, and weeks before President Biden's visit to Israel in July, when he is expected to advance regional security coordination between Israel and its allies in the region.

The immediate crisis facing the government was its inability to renew regulations needed to apply Israeli civil law to Jewish settlers in the West Bank owing to opposition from Arab lawmakers in the coalition, which angered right-wing lawmakers. The bill was opposed by Mr. Netanyahu, who normally votes to support settlers but marshaled the opposition to vote against it in an attempt to embarrass the government and force it to collapse.

If Israel does go to elections, the deadline to renew the regulations would automatically be postponed.

Speaking alongside Mr. Lapid in televised statements, Mr. Bennett said that he "left no stone unturned" in trying to save his government, but that new elections were the only way of preventing chaos and harm to Israeli security if the regulations would go unrenewed.

Mr. Lapid, who spoke briefly, pledged to continue Israel's widening campaign against Iran and militant groups opposing Israel, tackle the increasing cost of living and fight for political reform to solve Israel's political instability.

He thanked Mr. Bennett for "putting the country before his personal interest."

"You're a friend and I love you," Mr. Lapid told Mr. Bennett.

Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute, said the call for elections "is a clear indication that Israel's worst political crisis did not end when this government was sworn into office."

Mr. Plesner said that the crisis, which has prevented stable management of the country for a few years now, stems from a split down the middle over Mr. Netanyahu's future, and that Israeli law makes it too easy for Parliament to dissolve itself.

"In governments with a small majority, it turns every backbencher into a kingmaker or into an instability instigator," he said.

Mr. Plesner added that by including an Arab party in the coalition, the current government paved the way for a minority that makes up more than 20% of the population to participate more in the political process.

Mr. Netanyahu, in a video statement, vowed to form a broad national government led by his Likud party.

"This is an evening of great news for millions of Israeli citizens," Mr. Netanyahu said.

Some lawmakers once aligned with Mr. Netanyahu have pledged to oppose his return to power, saying the former prime minister had used his position for personal interests. Mr. Netanyahu is on trial over corruption charges, which he has denied.

"The goal in the next elections is clear -- preventing the return of Netanyahu to power and enslaving the state for his personal interests," tweeted Gideon Saar, a lawmaker in the anti-Netanyahu coalition who was once the former prime minister's ally.

Mr. Netanyahu can still run for office despite his trial, which shows no signs of ending soon.

Avraham Diskin, a professor of political science at Hebrew University, said Mr. Netanyahu's chances of being re-elected were better than in recent elections because the right-wing religious and ultraorthodox parties that support him have grown in strength despite not reaching a clear majority.

"The chances of Netanyahu becoming prime minister are more than 50%, but it's still not guaranteed," he said.

Mr. Netanyahu had kept the opposition disciplined throughout the year, forcing the government to lose key votes and appear unstable. At the same time, he led a simultaneous pressure and wooing campaign against right-wing lawmakers in the coalition to turn sides.

If Mr. Netanyahu fails to get a clear majority, he might face a rebellion in his own party, Mr. Diskin said, because right-wing lawmakers opposed to Mr. Netanyahu have said they would form a government with the Likud party if someone else was leading the party.

"The rebellion against Netanyahu within the Likud can definitely occur. And once you have a rebellion everything is open," he said.



Israel's Government Collapses, Setting Up 5th Election in 3 Years

The governing coalition decided to dissolve Parliament, plunging the country back into paralysis and throwing a political lifeline to Benjamin Netanyahu.

By Patrick Kingsley
The New York Times
June 20, 2022 4:06 p.m. ET

JERUSALEM -- Israel's governing coalition will dissolve Parliament before the end of the month, bringing down the government and sending the country to a fifth election in three years, the prime minister said on Monday.

The decision plunged Israel back into paralysis and threw a political lifeline to Benjamin Netanyahu, the right-wing prime minister who left office just one year ago upon the formation of the current government. Mr. Netanyahu is currently standing trial on corruption charges but has refused to leave politics, and his Likud party is leading in the polls.

Once Parliament formally votes to dissolve itself, it will bring down the curtain on one of the most ambitious political projects in Israeli history: an unwieldy eight-party coalition that united political opponents from the right, left and center, and included the first independent Arab party to join an Israeli governing coalition.

But that ideological diversity was also its undoing.

Differences between the coalition's two ideological wings, compounded by unrelenting pressure from Mr. Netanyahu's right-wing alliance, led two right-wing lawmakers to defect -- removing the coalition's majority in Parliament. When several left-wing and Arab lawmakers also rebelled on key votes, the coalition found it impossible to govern.

The final straw was the government's inability last week to muster enough votes to extend a two-tier legal system in the West Bank, which has differentiated between Israeli settlers and Palestinians since Israel occupied the territory in 1967.

Several Arab members of the coalition declined to vote for the system, which must be extended every five years. That prevented the bill's passage and prompted Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a former settler leader, to collapse the government and thereby delay a final vote until after another election.

"We did everything we possibly could to preserve this government, whose survival we see as a national interest," Mr. Bennett, 50, said in a televised speech. "To my regret, our efforts did not succeed," he added.

Expected to be held in the fall, the snap election will be Israel's fifth since April 2019. It comes at an already delicate time for the country, after a rise in Palestinian attacks on Israelis and an escalation in a clandestine war between Israel and Iran. It also complicates diplomacy with Israel's most important ally, the United States, as the new political crisis arose less than a month before President Joseph R. Biden's first visit to the Middle East as a head of state.

Mr. Biden will be welcomed by a caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid, the current foreign minister. The terms of the coalition agreement dictated that if the government collapsed because of right-wing defections, Mr. Lapid, a centrist former broadcaster, would take over as interim leader from Mr. Bennett.

Mr. Lapid will lead the government for at least several months, through the election campaign and the protracted coalition negotiations likely to follow.

In a show of unity on Monday night, Mr. Bennett and Mr. Lapid gave consecutive speeches from the same stage, both hailing the successes of an unlikely government that many analysts did not expect to last even for a year.

The fractious alliance was formed last June after four inconclusive elections in two years had left Israel without a state budget or a functional government.

The coalition's members agreed to team up to end this paralysis, and because of their shared desire to oust Mr. Netanyahu. Mr. Netanyahu's refusal to resign despite standing trial on corruption charges had alienated many of his natural allies on the right, leading some of them to ally with their ideological opponents to remove him from office.

The coalition was cohesive enough to pass a new budget, Israel's first in more than three years, and to make key administrative appointments. It steadied Israel's relationship with the Biden administration and deepened its emerging ties with key Arab states.

Its leaders and supporters also hailed it for showing that compromise and civility were still possible in a society deeply divided along political, religious and ethnic lines.

"We formed a government which many believed was an impossible one -- we formed it in order to stop the terrible tailspin Israel was in the midst of," Mr. Bennett said in his speech.

"Together we were able to pull Israel out from the hole," he added.

Nevertheless, the government was ultimately unable to overcome its contradictions.

Its members clashed regularly over the rights of Israel's Arab minority, the relationship between religion and state, and settlement policy in the occupied West Bank -- clashes that ultimately led two key members to defect, and others to vote against government bills.

The new election offers Mr. Netanyahu another chance to win enough votes to form his own majority coalition. But his path back to power is far from clear.

Polls suggest that his party, Likud, will easily be the largest in the next Parliament, but its allies may not have enough seats to let Mr. Netanyahu assemble a parliamentary majority. Some parties may also only agree to work with Likud if Mr. Netanyahu steps down as party leader.

This dynamic may lead to months of protracted coalition negotiations, returning Israel to the stasis it fell into before Mr. Netanyahu's departure, when his government lacked the cohesion to enact a national budget or fill important positions in the civil service, and the country held four elections in two years.

Through it all, Mr. Netanyahu is expected to remain on trial, a yearslong process that is unaffected by a new election, and which will likely only end if he either accepts a plea deal, is found guilty or innocent, or if prosecutors withdraw their charges. Despite the promises of some coalition members, the outgoing government failed to pass legislation to bar a candidate charged with criminal offenses from becoming prime minister.

Critics fear Mr. Netanyahu will use a return to office to pass laws that might obstruct the prosecution, an accusation that he has denied.

In a video released on social media on Monday, Mr. Netanyahu celebrated the government's decision and criticized its record.

"This evening is wonderful news for the citizens of Israel," Mr. Netanyahu said.

"This government has ended its path," he added. "A government that depended on terror supporters, which abandoned the personal security of the citizens of Israel, that raised the cost of living to unheard-of heights, that imposed unnecessary taxes, that endangered our Jewish entity. This government is going home."

Palestinian Israeli lawmakers celebrated the government's collapse for opposing reasons -- because they said it had done little to change the lives of Palestinians.

Aida Touma-Suleiman, an opposition lawmaker and a member of Israel's Palestinian minority, said in a statement: "This government implemented a radical far-right policy of expanding settlements, destroying houses, and carrying out ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories. It threw crumbs to the Arabs in exchange for conceding fundamental political principles."

Mr. Lapid, 58, heads Yesh Atid, the second-largest party after Mr. Netanyahu's Likud. After Mr. Netanyahu failed to cobble together a majority in the previous election in March 2021, Mr. Lapid was given the opportunity to form a government.

To persuade Mr. Bennett to join his alliance, Mr. Lapid allowed Mr. Bennett to take the first turn as prime minister even though he led a much smaller party, because Mr. Bennett was seen as more acceptable to the right-wing flank of the coalition.

A former journalist and popular television host, Mr. Lapid first entered Parliament and government in 2013 as the surprise of that year's election, becoming finance minister in a Netanyahu-led government.

Many Israelis long considered Mr. Lapid -- a former amateur boxer -- a political lightweight, particularly with regard to handling complex security issues, including countering Iran's nuclear ambitions. But he has since served as a minister of finance, foreign affairs, strategic affairs and as the alternate prime minister, and has served as leader of the opposition.

The son of Yosef Lapid, a former minister and Holocaust survivor, and Shulamit Lapid, a novelist, he has expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But to secure the backing of Mr. Bennett, who opposes a Palestinian state, he agreed not to negotiate with the Palestinians over statehood for the duration of their alliance.


(By the New York Times)

A fragile coalition. Israel appears to be headed for its fifth election in three years after officials said the governing coalition will vote to dissolve Parliament. Here's a look at some of the factors that led to the government's collapse:

Political defections. The move to dissolve Parliament followed weeks of paralysis caused when two right-wing lawmakers left the coalition, one of whom said the government did not adequately represent Zionist and Jewish values. Their defections deprived the coalition of its parliamentary majority, making it hard to govern.

A spike in violence. A recent wave of Palestinian attacks in Israel, the deadliest in several years, also presented a stark challenge to the coalition. The violence spawned criticism of the government from both sides, but the coalition's ideological diversity constrained its options.



Netanyahu hails end of 'worst gov't in Israeli history,' as new elections are on the horizon

From the outset, it was clear that the coalition was destined to fail. Ultimately, the desire to keep Benjamin Netanyahu out of office was not enough to keep a group that agreed on little else together.

By Alex Traiman
June 20, 2022

Israel appears set to head back to the polls after a "change coalition" has failed to hold its razor-thin majority, barely a year after its formation.

Elections are likely to be held on Oct. 25, just after the conclusion of the Jewish High Holidays. The elections would be the fifth in just three-and-a-half years.

Meanwhile, according to the coalition's complicated rotation agreement, Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid will tentatively become a caretaker "transitional" prime minister with limited powers until a new government can be formed after elections. In this role, Lapid would meet with U.S. President Joe Biden should he visit the region as scheduled in July.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who controls the parliament's largest ideologically aligned bloc and has increased his popular support, sits in pole position to form a new government should a new election be held.

A predominantly right-wing government, led by Netanyahu, would represent the will of the clear majority of Israeli voters. Right-wing parties received 72 seats in the last election. Left-wing parties secured 38 seats. Arab parties received 10 seats.


Netanyahu's Likud Party received 30 seats in the last election -- 13 seats more than the next largest party, Yesh Atid, led by Lapid. Despite the apparent landslide, parties that agreed to serve in a Netanyahu-led government, which at the time included Yamina, secured 59 votes -- just two short of a majority. Zionist parties opposed to Netanyahu totaled 51 seats.

Once Netanyahu proved unable to form a government, Lapid cajoled Bennett to desert the right-wing bloc and offered him the seat of prime minister as part of a rotation arrangement. Unable to resist Lapid's offer, Bennett agreed to become prime minister, despite winning only seven mandates in the previous election.

Lapid and Bennett then convinced the Islamist Ra'am Party -- a chapter of the southern branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and effectively a sister organization to Hamas -- to join the coalition. Ra'am participation represented the first time an Arab party had joined an Israeli coalition.


From the outset, it was clear the coalition was destined to fail. Immediately after the formation of the coalition, Yamina Party member Amichai Chikli announced that he would not vote with the government.

Chikli cited the promises he and Bennett had made to their voters in advance of the elections. Bennett repeatedly told voters on national news programs that it would be undemocratic for a Knesset member to become prime minister with less than 10 mandates. Bennett had seven. In a stunt, Bennett also signed a piece of paper that he brought into an Israeli evening news program stating that he would not join any Lapid-led government "with a rotation or without a rotation" because "I am right-wing and [Lapid] is left-wing." Many right-wing voters supported Bennett on the basis of those broken promises.

In April, another member of Yamina, Idit Silman -- the Knesset's coalition whip, responsible for ensuring bills would pass in the parliament -- caved to right-wing pressure and announced that she was resigning her post, at the time urging the formation of an alternative right-wing government.

Just this past week, Yamina member Nir Orbach also announced he would no longer vote with the government. Fellow Yamina member Abir Kara has also been rumored to support a Netanyahu-led government.

However, it was not only the right-wing who was opposed to sitting together with every member of Israel's left-wing and Islamist parties. Blue and White's Michael Biton announced that he would not vote with the government over various transportation reforms that bypassed the Knesset committee he led. Far-left Meretz-party member and Israeli Arab Rinawie Zoabi announced her resignation from the coalition in mid-May, only to be convinced to rejoin a week later. In early June, Ra'am Party member Mazen Ghanaim announced that he would no longer vote with the coalition.

Left without a majority and needing to put out political fires on nearly a daily basis, Bennett and Lapid recognized the inevitable: the ideologically diverse coalition could no longer successfully limp along.


The "change coalition" was motivated by a single unifying factor: a desire to replace Netanyahu after 12 years in power. This came despite the fact that most Israelis continue to prefer Netanyahu in the top job. The change movement was motivated in large part by criminal trials against Netanyahu that are proving in court to be both full of holes and inappropriate conduct by state prosecutors.

The nation never chose Lapid, who could not have formed a government without right-wing defectors. And the nation certainly did not choose Bennett, who leaves his post with the backing of only four party members.

Only 96 percent of the public chose somebody else than Bennett to be prime minister -- a point that ultimately did not deter Bennett from taking the post.

Bennett and Lapid, who agreed to share the post of prime minister in a rotation arrangement and fellow coalition members, argued that the partnership of strange bedfellows was necessary to get Israel out of its electoral gridlock and provide political stability. But the coalition failed to deliver from the get-go. Ultimately, the desire to keep Netanyahu out of office was not enough to keep a group that agreed on little else together.


While Bennett and Lapid continuously stressed how successful the government was, there are few accomplishments. For months, the primary accomplishment repeated over and over was the passing of a state budget, a low bar and bare requirement for any coalition. Failing to pass a budget is an automatic trigger for elections.

In recent weeks, Bennett has repeatedly spoken about how safe the country has been during his year in office with only seven rockets fired from Gaza just a year after 4,500 Hamas and rockets and Israel's retaliatory "Operation Guardian of the Walls." Yet Bennett has refused to mention the dozens of terror attacks in Israeli cities in recent weeks -- the deadliest terror wave since 2014.


What the coalition succeeded to do was bring every single member of Israel's left wing from the backbenches of the opposition into seats of power. Bennett had little discipline over his cabinet.

While he remained silent, Bennett's partners worked to bring Israel back toward a path of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. This despite the P.A.'s continued funding of terrorists, via their abhorrent "pay for slay" program and terror incitement across all sectors of Palestinian society. Several members of Bennett's government met P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas on multiple visits in Ramallah, and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz even hosted Abbas in his home in Rosh HaAyin -- the first time Abbas had visited Israel in more than 10 years.

The government circumvented an Israeli law designed to prevent tax and customs transfers to the P.A. on the basis of the terror financing, by instead "loaning" 600 million NIS (nearly $175 million) in funds to the P.A. with the withheld transfers being used as collateral in case the P.A. later failed to pay the loans.

Lapid, for his part, initially agreed to allow the United States to reopen a U.S. Consulate to the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem that was shuttered when the previous administration fulfilled the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 2018, which codified a unified Jerusalem as the official capital of the Jewish state according to U.S. law. It took a massive pressure campaign on right-wing members of the government, including on Bennett and Gideon Sa'ar to prevent the consulate's reopening.

As Foreign Minister Lapid also caused significant damage to Israel's critical relationships with Russia, China and Poland, though he claimed he dramatically improved Israel's diplomatic standing. Just last week, he partnered with left-wing Culture Minister Chili Tropper to join Israel into the EU's Cultural Program -- a program that refuses participation of Israelis living in Judea, Samaria or the Golan Heights -- effectively a form of anti-Israel BDS.

During a pandemic, Israel's Health Minister found time not only to meet Abbas but to enact progressive reforms making it easier for women to get abortions, for same-sex couples to adopt children via surrogacy and to ease the process for gender-transition surgeries to be performed in Israeli hospitals.

Energy Minister and left-wing Labor Party member Karine Elharrar stopped Israeli exploration licenses for additional finds of off-shore natural gas due to Israel's new commitment to pursue renewable energy. It was only several weeks ago, after Europe began scrambling to find new sources of natural gas since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, that Elharrar announced exploration would resume.


Celebrating the announcement that the Knesset would be disbanded, Netanyahu said in a statement that "it is clear to everyone that the worst government in Israeli history has come to an end." He noted that the announcement was preceded by a year of "determined struggle by the opposition in the Knesset and great suffering by the Israeli public."

In its place, Netanyahu has pledged to form a "wide, national government headed by Likud."


Despite Bennett and Lapid's announcement that they intend to disband the parliament and take the nation to the polls for the fifth time in three-and-a-half years, Netanyahu may be able to form an alternative right-wing coalition within the existing parliament. He currently controls a strong bloc of 55 members. If he can convince six members of the current coalition to join, he can form a government and avert new elections.

The possibility of an alternative coalition is strengthened by recent poll numbers showing that the right-wing six-member New Hope Party led by former Likud party stalwart and Netanyahu-challenger Sa'ar would fail to pass the minimum Knesset threshold if new elections were to be held today. Bennett's own right-wing Yamina Party is performing poorly in the polls, and there is a strong possibility that his party may implode altogether before an election would be held.

Yamina members reportedly were not informed ahead of time of Bennett's intention to disband the government, and several party members would gladly fulfill the promises they made to their voters and serve in a right-wing government.

By joining a Netanyahu-led government, Bennett, Sa'ar or even Gantz could help the nation avoid yet another election and receive high-ranking ministerial portfolios in the process.

A strong center-right government would fulfill the will of an electorate that's tired of the polls and wants those elected to do their jobs for once without the politics. If not, Israel will head back to the polling stations to try to end the electoral deadlock themselves.

And while Israelis and onlookers around the world may scoff at Israel's political dysfunction, at least the mandate is returning where it belongs: to the people -- a sign of a robust democracy.



Netanyahu vows to form new gov't, pans Bennett coalition as 'biggest failure in history'
By Jonathan Lis
June 20, 2022 9:46 PM

The Israeli opposition hailed Monday's decision to vote to dissolve the Knesset and hold a fifth general election in three and a half years, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledging to establish "a broad, strong, and stable national government that would bring back national pride."

In a jubilant video released on social media, Netanyahu said "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.

The former prime minister added that he would not form a government with United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas.

"I will not sit [in a government] with Mansour Abbas, and I did not sit with Mansour Abbas," Netanyahu said.

In stark contrast, 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."

Mansour Abbas of the United Arab List, who led the historic process of becoming the first Arab party to join an Israeli coalition, doubled down in an interview with Channel 12 News.

"We've only just begun," Abbas said, "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."

"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."

MK Yair Golan, also of Meretz, said, "The die has been cast -- elections. And the goal is clear -- to save Israel from corruption and Kahanism."

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev posted on social media that "This past year, since the establishment of the 'change government,' there has been a year in which we have done great things for the State of Israel."

"This government," he continued, "which has unified all of the political spectrum -- has put the bests interest of the citizens of Israel, their well-being and security, at the top of its agenda, and has made great changes that will affect all of us."

On the part of the opposition, Bezalel Smortich, chairman of the Religious Zionism party, 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."

Chairman of Likud, lawmaker Yair Levin, also said that "One year ago, I was assigned the most important task: To save the State of Israel from a bad government," which he says resulted in a dramatic increase in the cost of living, and damaged the personal sense of security of each and every one of Israel's citizens."

"It's been quite a year, it was a hard fight," Levin continued, "Our mission now is clear: Bring all that power and all that determination to the upcoming campaign, to ensure that we quickly establish a national government under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, which is committed to Jewish values."



Netanyahu Has Edge in Race, but Lapid Has Proven Bibi's Not Unbeatable
Yair Lapid has the advantage of going to the polls as Israel's PM and the man who finally ended Netanyahu's long rule. Forming a new coalition, however, remains an uphill battle
By Anshel Pfeffer
June 21, 2022 12:00 AM

Naftali Bennett knew already on Monday morning that by the evening he would be Israel's outgoing and shortest-serving prime minister. His former loyalist Nir Orbach had made it clear to him that he would be joining the opposition in dissolving the Knesset next week. Bennett called Yair Lapid and they decided to preempt Orbach and the opposition.

In the afternoon, Bennett briefed the diplomatic correspondents on the upcoming visit by U.S. President Joe Biden, without giving away that he would not be the one greeting the president in three weeks.

There are two main reasons for the timing of Bennett and Lapid's announcement. Perhaps they could have gotten Orbach to wait a few more weeks, but they wouldn't have been able to pass the West Bank regulations law, leading to chaotic implications. And they didn't want it to look like they were being dragged to elections kicking and screaming by Benjamin Netanyahu and a bunch of defectors.

Bennett is already in legacy mode. He wants to be remembered as the man who gave all he could to unite Israel and end a period of political paralysis. And he wants to be remembered as a man of his word; he kept to his agreement with Lapid, and ensured an orderly transition of power -- so unlike the one he had with his predecessor Netanyahu.

Bennett, after his single year in office, no longer has a party. Yamina has imploded. Three of its seven original Knesset members have already left the coalition. His political partner Ayelet Shaked and other Yamina lawmakers are making their own plans. Bennett is likely to take a time-out from politics now.

Lapid is to become Israel's 14th prime minister, only the third not to come from a party which is neither Likud nor Labor. His biggest challenge is not to break Bennett's record in a few months and hand over power to Netanyahu after the election.

After Bennett's passionate announcement on Monday night, and lengthy defense of his short time in office, Lapid made do with a short and gracious farewell to Bennett, noting that "he is younger than me, he still has deeds to do," and then said a few words on the upcoming challenges. That was it. Lapid has to work now at looking prime ministerial. He has four months until the election (which is expected to take place in late October) to establish himself as a credible prime minister in the eyes of the voters.

His new post, from next week on, as interim prime minister is his greatest asset going into the election. Lapid's Yesh Atid party has succeeded where few centrist parties have, surviving for a decade through multiple election cycles, but it has never received more than 15 percent of the vote. Too many Israelis simply didn't see Lapid as a credible leader. Now he has four months for them to get used to the words "Prime Minister Yair Lapid."

The title of interim prime minister, as we saw between 2019 and 2021, is also a useful thing to have in a period of electoral stalemate. He can now only be replaced by a prime minister with a full majority in the Knesset. And who knows when Israel will have one of those. It may even be Lapid himself.

Lapid is also facing the voters as the man who finally ended Netanyahu's long rule, after he tailored this unbelievable coalition last year. It may have lasted for only a year, but it defied all expectations by just coming into being.

But forming a new coalition will be an uphill struggle. The basic facts of Israeli politics haven't changed. There is still a small but consistent majority who don't want Netanyahu to return to power, but that majority supports a wide range of parties that couldn't sustain a coalition for more than a year. Netanyahu, on the other hand, is the leader of a coherent and loyal coalition of only four right-wing and religious parties. Most of the polls do not give them the necessary majority to form a government, but they're not far off.

The fractured state of the anti-Netanyahu bloc gives the opposition parties an advantage. If any of the current coalition's parties fail to cross the electoral threshold (we'll hear the word "threshold" a lot in the coming months) their votes will be lost. This will benefit the Netanyahu bloc as there is no realistic prospect of the pro-Netanyahu parties failing to cross the threshold. Netanyahu's chances of finally getting that elusive majority in the fifth election in less than four years is better this time around.

Being Netanyahu, he is not about to leave anything to chance and has already planned his campaign meticulously. It will center on vicious incitement against the "terror-supporting" Arab parties which his opponent Lapid cooperated with in his coalition. Netanyahu's bloc will be the "national" and "Jewish" parties, fighting against those who, as he said in his statement on Monday evening, "threatened Israel's Jewish character."

Lapid has his work cut out for him. But he has one thing going for him: He is the only Israeli politician in the past decade to have proven that Netanyahu is beatable.


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All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.