Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday chaired his last cabinet meeting, with the Knesset expected to dissolve itself this week and trigger new elections in the fall.
The prime minister praised the diverse coalition for its achievements, which, he declared, were the fruit of its ability to work united on behalf of the people.
Bennett’s decision to trigger elections puts an end to an ambitious political project that united eight ideologically disparate parties that put aside their differences to oust former leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the current opposition leader, who now has an opening to return to lead the country. The coming elections, the fifth the country has held in four years, deepen an unprecedented political crisis in Israel.
At the weekly cabinet meeting, Bennett listed a series of accomplishments belonging to his year-old government and thanked his coalition partners, which include dovish parties that support Palestinian statehood, nationalist ones that don’t, 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 set aside ideological disagreements, to rise above, and to work for the State of Israel,” he said.
Bennett summed up the government’s time in power as providing security in the south and economic recovery from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For the first time in years, the harvest in the communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip has ended quietly and successfully, without incendiary balloons, fires or Hamas rockets,” Bennett said, referring to attacks from the Hamas-ruled Palestinian enclave that disrupted daily life in border communities in past years.
Listing other achievements, he said hundreds of thousands of people had returned to work after, at its height, the pandemic left over a million Israelis unemployed.
“Together, we brought Israel from economic collapse to growth; together we reduced the astronomical deficit to zero,” he said.
Last week Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced that they would seek to dissolve the Knesset as their coalition could no longer function. A preliminary bill to disband parliament passed a first reading last week and is set to be approved in final votes on Monday.
As part of the power-sharing agreement that brought Bennett to power, he is set to hand over the premiership to Lapid once parliament is dissolved. Elections are expected around the end of October and polls show Netanyahu’s Likud party is expected to garner the most seats.
But as in most rounds of voting during the current political turmoil, Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, is seen in polls to be 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 upcoming vote.
While Bennett’s government helped 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 rule in the West Bank. 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 and Palestinians.
Bennett’s own nationalist faction, Yamina, was dogged by defectors, legislators who said the prime minister, a former settler leader, had veered too much toward the center in his bid to keep the coalition intact.
After Yamina MK Nir Orbach said earlier this month that he too will join the opposition, Bennett and Lapid decided to call it quits.
Bennett, who entered politics a decade ago, hasn’t said whether he’ll run in the upcoming elections.