Israeli Prime Minster Naftali Bennett convenes Cabinet before Parliament is dissolved

Fifth election in three years is sign of deepening political crisis

Naftali Bennett chairs a Cabinet meeting, his last as Israeli Prime Minister, at his office in Jerusalem on Sunday. AP
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Naftali Bennett convened what is likely to be his last Cabinet meeting as Israeli Prime Minister on Sunday.

Parliament is expected to dissolve itself this week, triggering an election in the autumn.

Mr Bennett’s decision to head to the polls puts an end to a political project that united eight ideologically disparate parties that chose to put aside their differences to oust former leader Benjamin Netanyahu, now opposition leader and who now has an opportunity to return to lead the country.

The election, the fifth the country has held in three years, signifies a deepening political crisis.

At the meeting, Mr Bennett listed a series of accomplishments under his year-long government and thanked his coalition partners, which included dovish parties that support Palestinian statehood, nationalist ones who do not, and for the first time in Israeli history, an Arab political faction.

“It was an excellent government that relied, yes, on a complicated coalition. And here in this room there is a group of people that knew how to put aside ideological disagreements, to rise above, and to work for the state of Israel,” he said.

As part of the power-sharing agreement that brought Mr Bennett to power, he is set to hand his responsibilities to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist former broadcaster, once parliament is dissolved.

Elections are expected around the end of October and polls show Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party is expected to win the most seats.

But as in most rounds of voting during the current political turmoil, Mr Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, has been unable to muster a majority to form a coalition government, with some of his traditional allies refusing to join him. That could further extend the crisis after the coming vote.

While Mr Bennett’s government helped to steady the economy and navigated the last year of the coronavirus pandemic, it was beset by disagreements over the very issues it sought to avoid, particularly Israel’s 55-year occupation of the West Bank.

Mr Bennett said he decided to put an end to his political experiment because the government was unable to renew regulations that enshrine separate legal systems for Jewish settlers in the territory and Palestinians.

His nationalist faction, Yamina, was dogged by defectors, legislators who said the prime minister, a former settler leader, had veered too much towards the centre in his efforts to keep the coalition intact.

Mr Bennett, who entered politics a decade ago, has not said if he will run in the elections.

Updated: June 26, 2022, 1:46 PM