Israel coalition agrees to dissolve and hold new elections

JERUSALEM – The weakened Israeli coalition government decided on Monday to dissolve its parliament and hold new elections.

A vote expected later this year could lead to the return of the nationalist religious government led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or another long political stalemate.

In a nationally televised news conference, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said it would not be easy to dissolve the government, but he called it “the right decision by Israel”.

This is a major news update. An early AP story follows.

JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office announced Monday that his weakened coalition will be dissolved and the country will hold new elections.

Elections expected in October or November will be Israel’s fifth in three years. The election could also set the stage for the return of current opposition leader and longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power.

Bennett has struggled to maintain his unruly coalition of eight parties since taking office a year ago, and the defections have kept the shaky coalition without a majority in parliament for more than two months.

Bennett and his key coalition partner, Yar Rapid, have decided to vote to dissolve parliament in the coming days, Bennett’s office said. Rapide will then serve as caretaker prime minister.

Bennett formed an eight-party coalition in June 2021 after four consecutive inconclusive elections. It includes a variety of parties, from dovish factions that support an end to Israel’s occupation of lands in 1967, to hard-liners that oppose Palestinian independence. It made history by becoming the first Israeli coalition government to include an Arab political party.

The coalition has achieved a series of achievements, including passing its first state budget in several years and tackling two coronavirus outbreaks without imposing any lockdowns.

But in the end it fell apart, largely because several members of Bennett’s hardline party opposed what they saw as compromises he made to keep the coalition afloat and what he saw as moderation.

The dissolution could overshadow President Joe Biden’s planned visit next month. The Israeli media quoted Biden’s ambassador Tom Nieders as saying the visit would go ahead as planned.

Netanyahu said the impending dissolution of parliament was “good news” for millions of Israelis and said he would form a “broadly nationalist government led by Likud” after the upcoming elections.

Israel held four inconclusive elections between 2019 and 2021, largely in referendums on Netanyahu’s ability to rule while he is on trial for corruption. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing.

Polls predict that Netanyahu’s hardline Likud will once again be the largest single party. But it is unclear whether he will be able to get the necessary support from most lawmakers to form a new government.

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