On June 21, 2022, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his deputy, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, announced their decision to dissolve the Knesset (parliament) and hold early general elections. According to the agreement, Lapid would take over as interim prime minister and Bennett would become the alternative prime minister in charge of the Iranian dossier.
We should remind that Israel has had a terrible political turmoil over the past few years, and the new elections will be the fifth in three and a half years.
On April 9, 2019, incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party won 35 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. His main rival, the white-blue coalition led by Benny Gantz and his partner Yair Lapid, also won 35 seats. But neither was able to form a government, so the parliament was dissolved, and new elections were scheduled for September 17 of that year.
This time the Blue and White alliance led by Ganz and Lapid won 33 seats, while the Likud won 32. Again, neither party was able to form a government within the necessary time, so the Knesset was dissolved and new elections were scheduled for March 2020.
At that time the Likud won the most seats, 36, and the Blue and White won 33 seats, but again they failed to form a government. Netanyahu and Gantz agreed to form a government in relay. But there was a disagreement between Netanyahu and Gantz over the budget which was not passed. The Knesset was dissolved in December 2020.
During the March 2021 election campaign, Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats (30), and the White and Blue alliance between Lapid and Gantz fell apart. Netanyahu still failed to form a government, so a shaky bloc was organized between eight parties that were united by the idea of removing Netanyahu from power. Thus, on June 13 last year, a coalition government emerged.
The parties agreed that the premiership would rotate between Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, and Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Yamina party. Bennett assumed office first, and Lapid was scheduled to succeed him in September 2023. Until then Lapid would be content with serving as temporary head of government for a few months.
The bloc also included New Hope (right wing), led by Gideon Saar; Yisrael Beiteinu (a nationalist right wing party hostile to religious Jews), led by Avigdor Lieberman; the White and Blue (center) led by Benny Gantz; Labor (center) led by Merav Michaeli; and Meretz (left wing) led by Nitzan Horowitz; and the United Arab List led by Mansur Abbas.
In this case, the reason for the collapse was the vulnerability of the coalition which had only half of the seats in parliament and its members regularly left the alliance for which they were labeled traitors. When the right-wing MP Nir Orbach announced that he was “no longer a part” of the government, the balance was finally broken, with only 59 seats out of 120 left under the coalition’s control.
The last straw was the failure to extend the emergency law of June 7, according to which Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank are considered Israelis, with the same rights as everyone else.
The head of the Religious Zionist Political Alliance, Betsalel Smotrich, also proposed a law that would establish Israeli sovereignty over the occupied West Bank, an initiative that also divided Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government.
If Smotrich’s bill had been passed, it would have led to the application of Israeli laws in the West Bank, which would then formally become part of Israel by annexation.
But Bennett stated unequivocally that his country would not annex the West Bank. At the same time it was said that there would be no cooperation with the Palestinian Authority either.
Now Benjamin Netanyahu will try to have revenge, although this will most likely be the last time he tries to become prime minister. There have also been rumors that Netanyahu apparently hopes to hand over the state to his possible successor. For this to happen, the right conditions must be in place, both from a security and an economic point of view. However, nowadays is clearly not the best situation for this due to anticipated inflation and another global economic crisis. Iran’s nuclear program and the activity of Iranian proxies in Syria and Lebanon also add to the anxiety of the Israeli establishment.
While Netanyahu used to come regularly to Moscow for support, now, in the new situation with the special operation in Ukraine, it will be much more difficult to do so because Israeli society itself is highly polarized on this issue. Moreover, the Kremlin has openly protested the recent Israeli bombing of Syrian territory. And the rapprochement between Russia and Iran, as evidenced by the recent visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Tehran, where new agreements were reached, is clearly not in Israel’s interests.
Despite the Abrahamic agreements signed with Israel, a number of Arab countries prefer not to rush into “normalization” and are beginning to take a more balanced, moderate stance. Saudi Arabia, for example, is negotiating with Iran to improve bilateral ties and has not gone along with the U.S. on oil production and anti-Russian sanctions.
Although Washington is trying to incite its partners and engage all members of the Abrahamic Agreement in the newly created Middle East Air Defense Alliance. Israel has already formally joined it, as recently announced by Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
Obviously, the new election process will be difficult, and not only for Netanyahu. On the one hand it will be necessary to find answers to the current challenges as presented by Israeli society, and on the other hand to try not to escalate the conflict against Iran, Syria and Lebanon which will provoke reactions not only from these countries but also from other regional players and of course major actors, including the United States, which is clearly not ready to open a new front also against Iran.
This situation brings to mind the statement of Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who said that their state suffers from chronic inferiority. He was referring to the demographics and the territory which in his time was much smaller. This inferiority was the reason for the repatriation program which Israel spared no expense and no effort to expand through the occupation of Palestine. But the current situation indicates that this chronic inferiority has persisted and is characteristic of Israel’s political system as a whole. If the leadership of this political entity had thought more rationally, they would have realized that by denying the existence of a Palestinian state, Israel is condemning itself to further instability and inferiority.