Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sought to cut his losses. He decided to do what little he could while he could, after his own political party had disintegrated, with almost the last two remaining negotiating a switch to Likud, and depart on his own terms. Without consulting anyone in his Yamina party, and with a short message to his longtime political partner Minister of the Interior Ayelet Shaked, Bennett talked to Yair Lapid and informed him that the “government of change” had come to an end. Lapid didn’t see it coming. Just a few hours previously he was still beseeching the rebel coalition members of Knesset to resign and enable the government to keep going.

Earlier yesterday, however, there had been another tough conversation between Bennett and MK Nir Orbach of Yamina, in which the latter informed him that he intended to vote in favor of the dissolution of the Knesset in a first reading next week at the latest. Bennett realized that Orbach would not return to the coalition, and that the fate of the government and his own fate had been decided, and he wanted to keep control of events. Along the way, Bennett neutralized Orbach and Shaked’s ability to obtain guaranteed places on the Likud candidate list in the next election in exchange for voting for dissolution. Shaked received Bennett’s message while she was on an official visit to Morocco, and was unable to respond in real time. Checkmate.

The person who in the course of the day turned into one of the most powerful people in the Knesset on the way to elections was MK Ahmad Tibi. One after another, the heads of the coalition parties made their way to his office, at first to ask him not to support the bill to dissolve the Knesset, and to support coalition legislation, and then, after Bennett’s announcement, to coordinate their preferred election date with him. Lapid and Tibi agreed that the election would take place at the end of October. Behind the scenes there are claims of collusion on passing laws that will prevent Benjamin Netanyahu from becoming prime minister again.

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In one moment, Ra’am leader and coalition member Mansour Abbas lost his ability to dictate the future of the coalition to fellow Arab politician Tibi, of the opposition. Lapid, who was surprised by Bennett’s decision, gained two things. One is that it will be he who, as transitional prime minister, receives US President Joe Biden when he visits Israel next month. The other is that he is the only person in the government who can coordinate the assistance of both Mansour’s Ra’am party and Tibi’s Joint Arab List in running the transition government. Paradoxically, Lapid could have more freedom of action as head of a transition government than Bennett had as head of a narrow coalition.

In practice, the bill to dissolve the Knesset will come to a vote next week, and from there the Knesset will roll on towards elections that will take place at the end of October. In the meanwhile, in accordance with the coalition agreement, Lapid will become transitional prime minister and will run his election campaign from the Prime Minister’s Bureau. Netanyahu and his circle are also pleased with the move. Likud believes that if Lapid is prime minister, that will be a spur to drowsy Likud voters to turn out and perhaps give a decisive 61 Knesset seats to the right-haredi block.

Netanyahu saw the possibility of forming a right-wing government under his leadership in the current Knesset buried last night, when Minister of Justice and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, formerly of Likud, tweeted that he would prevent Netanyahu from returning to power. “As I warned, the irresponsibility of certain members of Knesset in the coalition led to the unavoidable result. The goal in the next election is clear: preventing Netanyahu’s return to power and the subjugation of the country to his personal interests,” Sa’ar tweeted.

For his part, Netanyahu declared, “My friends and I will form a broad nationalist government headed by Likud… and above all, a government that will restore national pride to Israel’s citizens so that they can walk the streets with their heads held high.”

In the press conference last night announcing his decision to step down in favor of Lapid, in which he enumerated the achievements of his short-lived government, which he said had unified disparate sections of Israeli politics and society, Bennett said that what precipitated his decision was the chaos that would ensue from the opposition’s refusal to support the government in extending the regulations governing the status of Israeli citizens in Judea and Samaria. The dissolution of the Knesset will mean that the regulations are renewed automatically.

Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on June 21, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

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