What's Happening in Israel? Explaining The Election

Q: What happened? 

A: Last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister/Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced that they would dissolve the government. This Wednesday, the Israeli Knesset voted unanimously to dissolve the current governing coalition, bringing Israelis to their fifth election in less than four years. The government is expected to be officially dissolved early next week. 


Q: Why?

A: There are a few different explanations for this government’s failure to fulfill its four-year term, but all of them boil down to the fragility of the current coalition as the result of its ideological diversity. The coalition was initially formed by eight disparate parties in a bid to oust former Prime Minister Netanyahu from power. The common cause was enough to bring ideological rivals together, but the cracks quickly started to show. 


As violence flared across Israel and the West Bank this spring, tensions within the coalition became increasingly evident: nothing brings out the irreconcilable differences between left-wing and right-wing ideology in Israel like flares of violence. Additionally, two right-wing Members of Knesset recently defected from the governing coalition, under pressure from Netanyahu’s opposition. These surprising departures did away with the governing coalition’s narrow majority, leaving the Knesset with an even 60-60 split between the governing coalition and the opposition. 


The final straw came this month, with a vote on extending by another five years the regulations that apply Israeli civilian law to Israeli citizens who live in the occupied West Bank (settlers), while maintaining military law over their Palestinian neighbors. An Arab-Israeli Meretz MK, Rinawie Zoabi, left the coalition over this vote, leaving it in a 59-61 minority, though she ultimately returned. Several Palestinian members of the coalition refused to vote to maintain this system of inequality, and as a result, Prime Minister Bennett (himself a former leader of the settler movement) to dissolve the government, in an effort to delay the final vote on this bill. 


Q: After three other recent government dissolutions, why is this one notable?

A: While there are many factors that contributed to the current government’s collapse, it is undeniable that the Occupation was the final straw. It was simply impossible for a coalition with settlers, left-wingers, and Palestinian citizens of Israel to come to an agreement about the apartheid-like situation in the West Bank, whereby Israelis and Palestinians live under two different legal codes. Often, Israeli politicians try to dismiss the issue of the Occupation, suggesting that it is not as important as other matters plaguing the country, and therefore can wait to be solved. This government’s dissolution reaffirms what we at APN already knew: Even if you try to evade it, as this outgoing coalition tried to do, the Occupation will come back to haunt you. It is the chief problem plaguing Israel. It cannot and should not be put on hold. It must be addressed.   


Q: What happens next?

A: When the government is officially dissolved, current Minister of Foreign Affairs and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid will replace Bennett as the Prime Minister. Lapid is a member of the centrist Yesh Atid party. His rotating premiership agreement with Bennett was one of the chief conditions for the current coalition. This arrangement will last until elections are held and a new government is formed, with the elections likely in November. 


Q: Will Netanyahu return to power at the next election?

A: According to four public opinion polls conducted on Tuesday, neither the pro-Netanyahu bloc nor the current coalition parties are projected to have a majority to form a new coalition government. That being said, Netanyahu is the clear frontrunner. Yes, you read that correctly: a plurality of Israelis (48% according to one of the polls) currently consider Netanyahu to be their best candidate for Prime Minister, despite the fact that he is currently on trial for corruption.