Israeli government dissolves parliament with fast-track bill

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s outgoing coalition government will speed up its passage of a bill to dissolve parliament this week in preparation for the country’s fifth election in three years, a cabinet minister said Tuesday.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Monday that he would dissolve his coalition of eight ideologically distinct parties and send the country to the polls after a year in office. A series of defections from his Yamina party have stripped the coalition of its majority in the Knesset, the Knesset.

Bennett cited the coalition’s failure earlier this month to extend a law that grants West Bank settlers special legal status as a key driver for the new election. His main ally, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, will serve as caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed after elections expected in October.

Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, a member of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, told Israeli public broadcaster Kan that the coalition will hold a preliminary vote on the bill on Wednesday.

“We hope to complete this process within a week,” Cohen said. “The aim is to get it done as quickly as possible and to get to the election.”

A parliamentary committee approved a preliminary vote on Wednesday to dissolve parliament, with a final vote expected early next week.

The new elections raise the odds of a comeback for current opposition leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu was ousted by an eight-party coalition after four inconclusive elections in what was largely seen as a referendum on his fitness to govern. The coalition’s factions range from dovish liberals who oppose Israeli settlements to hawkish ultranationalists who reject Palestinian statehood. It’s just their opposition to Netanyahu that brought them together.

Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for corruption, has denied any wrongdoing, saying the charges were a witch hunt by his political opponents. Israeli law does not expressly state that an indicted politician cannot become prime minister.

As politicians prepare for autumn elections, some coalition members have raised the possibility of passing a law before parliament is dissolved that would bar a lawmaker accused of a crime from serving as prime minister.

Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman said his party’s goal in the upcoming elections was to “prevent Benjamin Netanyahu from returning to power”. In addition to the bill to dissolve parliament, he said he would move forward with legislation on Wednesday barring an indicted lawmaker from the premiership.

“I hope the bill also gets a majority,” he told an economics conference hosted by the Israel Democracy Institute.

New Hope leader Gideon Sarr, the justice minister, told Army Radio that his faction had advocated for such a bill and that they would vote in favour if it was brought to Parliament.

Defense Secretary Benny Gantz, a centrist who formed a short-lived government of national unity with Netanyahu after a deadlocked 2020 election, told reporters he would no longer work with him.

“Honestly, in pain and grief, I say he’s exhausted the political credit that can be given to him,” Gantz said.

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