Together with his main coalition ally Foreign Minister Yair Lapid – who now appears poised to replace him as leader early next week – Bennett agreed to introduce a bill to dissolve parliament, which if passed would trigger a general election at a later date. from this year. .
The announcement came after weeks of mounting political uncertainty in Israel, but it still came as a huge surprise.
A brief statement from the Prime Minister’s Office stated that the move came “after exhausting attempts to establish stability in the coalition.” The statement added that a bill would be presented to Parliament sometime next week.
If passed, Lapid would become the country’s 14th prime minister, in line with the original coalition agreement reached last year. It also means that Israelis will go to the polls for the fifth time in less than four years.
Among the first items on Lapid’s agenda, assuming he becomes a leader, is preparing for US President Joe Biden’s visit next month. A senior US administration official said the president’s trip to the Middle East is still expected to continue despite the political change in Israel.
“We have a strategic relationship with Israel that goes beyond any one government,” the White House official said. “The president looks forward to the visit next month.”
Bennett Lapid’s government was sworn in in June last year, ending Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership, which lasted nearly twelve and a half years.
The coalition is made up of at least eight political parties, and spans the political spectrum, including for the first time an Arab party led by Mansour Abbas.
United in a desire to prevent Netanyahu – whose corruption trial already began in May 2020 – from remaining in power, the disparate coalition partners agreed to put their core differences to one side.
In November, he achieved a major domestic feat, passing the state budget for the first time in nearly four years.
But recent weeks have seen a number of coalition members resign or threaten to resign, leaving the government without a majority in parliament to pass legislation.
The political impasse came to a head earlier this month, when a Knesset vote failed to support the application of Israeli criminal and civil law to Israelis in the occupied West Bank.
Among other things, the regulation, which is renewed every five years, gives Israeli settlers the same rights as citizens of Israel, and is an article of faith for right-wing members of the coalition, including Prime Minister Bennett.
But two coalition members failed to support the bill, which means it failed to pass. If Parliament is dissolved before July 1, the regulation will remain in effect until a new government is formed.
Speaking alongside Lapid on Monday evening, Bennett said their government had removed what he described as the bitterness and paralysis of the Netanyahu era, and instead put decency and confidence back center stage.
“In the past few weeks, we have done everything in our power to save this government. In our eyes, its continued existence was in the national interest. Believe me, we have looked under every rock. We did it not for ourselves, but for our beautiful country and for you, the citizens of Israel.”
For his part, Lapid praised Bennett as a brave and innovative leader. He seemed to offer a stark warning of the dangers posed by a return to Netanyahu’s leadership.
“What we have to do today is to return to the concept of Israeli unity,” he said, “and not let dark forces tear us apart from within.”
In contrast, Netanyahu was upbeat, saying the country was smiling after what he called an evening full of news.
“After a determined struggle by the opposition in the Knesset, and great suffering for the public in Israel, it is clear to everyone that the most bleak government in the country’s history is over.”
Netanyahu and his supporters have received support from the latest opinion polls, which show his bloc of right-wing and religious parties is performing strongly, although it is still not enough to secure a majority in parliament.