Knesset passes initial vote to disperse, setting Israel on path to elections
Earliest parliament is expected to complete process of disbanding is Monday; opposition MKs rejoice as coalition lawmakers decry ‘sad day for democracy’
Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel
The coalition led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett cleared the first major hurdle on its path to ending the current government on Wednesday, passing the first of the four votes necessary to disperse the Knesset and force snap elections.
Unable to agree even on dissolution, the opposition and coalition submitted several separate versions of the legislation — nine opposition bills and two coalition versions.
The coalition’s primary version passed with 106 votes in favor and one against, while the opposition bills all passed with over 89 votes. All will now move to the Knesset House Committee to determine which committee will prepare them for their next vote, the first reading.
The dissolution process requires four separate votes and two committee reviews, and is not expected to be completed on Wednesday. The Knesset is expected to complete the process next week, perhaps as early as Monday.
Despite a relatively mild hour-long debate over the bills, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy dismissed attempts to applaud the passage of the 11 preliminary readings to dissolve the Knesset.
“No, no, no, stop. It’s over,” Levy said.
On Monday, Bennett and Foreign Minster Yair Lapid surprised the nation by announcing their intention to voluntarily disband the Knesset and send Israel to its fifth election since 2019.
After months of political instability kicked off by losing its one-seat majority in early April and exacerbated by security tensions, Bennett and Lapid said they arrived at their decision after attempts to restore order in the coalition were “exhausted.”
Following the expected dissolution, Lapid will assume the role of interim prime minister until a new government is sworn in, post elections.
Speaking on behalf of the government’s dispersal bill, coalition whip Boaz Toporovsky from Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction defended Bennett’s decision to pursue dispersal, saying that it was for the “good of the state.”
“This is a sad day for democracy. We are doing it with a heavy heart but wholeheartedly, because the benefit of the state has always been and will be before any other benefit,” said Toporovosky, adding that this was true even when up against “the benefit of politics.”
Toporovsky also charged that even at this last dismantlement phase, the opposition was reluctant to cooperate.
“The opposition is still delaying the decision to go to elections. It is an opposition that has fallen in love with jamming the governing system,” said Toporovsky.
Meretz MK Mossi Raz said the coalition had faced “unprecedented incitement” amid an uphill struggle.
“From day one, this government has faced unprecedented incitement. The opposition did not let go of its strategy of painting the government as illegitimate… In the face of this incitement, three MKs on the right who could not stand their power, folded. They are the ones who overthrew the government and we will move on,” he told the plenum.
“After the election, we’ll have another government in this model, but improved; with an Arab-Jewish partnership, without succumbing to threats from the right,” Raz said.
Likud faction chairman Yariv Levin, who sponsored one of the opposition’s nine dispersal bills, repeated past claims that the Bennett-Lapid government was “weak” and “evil.”
Saying that it was “the worst government in Israel’s history,” Levin added that the government “was established on the basis of blind hatred and an unprecedented embezzlement of voter confidence.”
His latter claim referred to the fact that the coalition was built on a platform of campaigning against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and charges that right-wing coalition parties betrayed voters by agreeing to join with left-wing and Arab lawmakers.
“We are setting Israel today on a new path. From hatred to love,” Levin said.
United Torah Judaism MK Yitzhak Pindrus, as well as Levin, opened his remarks by reciting the shehecheyanu, a prayer that celebrates special occasions. Ultra-Orthodox leaders have rejoiced at the impending dissolution of the Knesset and government, and many attributed its downfall to divine intervention.
Sworn in only a year ago, the government had marketed itself as a “change government,” but MK Aida Touma-Sliman from the opposition’s Joint List charged it had been bad for Arab society.
The Joint List party had previously been allied with Ra’am, which broke with the traditional Arab political line to sit with the coalition.
“The only change is the change in name, from Netanyahu to Bennett,” Touma-Sliman said.
“Everything else is a continuation of policy, especially with the settlements,” she added.
Although both the government and opposition agree that the current coalition’s tenure is over, a contest has quickly emerged over how the government will fall and under what terms.
The opposition is making last-ditch attempts to outflank the government and end the coalition not through dissolution, but rather by swapping out the current government with one of its own.
The Likud-led opposition and its leader Netanyahu have an option to shortcut elections and immediately take over the reins of power: If the right-wing religious 55-seat bloc can attract at least six more coalition MKs, it can immediately form a new government within the current Knesset.
The opposition has pursued this strategy since April, when the coalition’s former whip and lawmaker from Bennett’s own Yamina party, Idit Silman, resigned from the coalition and forced it into a 60-60 seat parity with the opposition. The opposition has reportedly tried to pull additional defecting MKs from the coalition’s right-wing and centrist flanks, though two and a half months later, only one additional MK — Nir Orbach, also from Yamina — defected.
The coalition is a big tent alliance of eight cross-spectrum parties, formed to block Netanyahu from continuing at Israel’s helm after 12 consecutive years in power.
Although it endeavored to avoid ideological roadblocks, policy debates and security incidents — touching at the core of ideological divisions — made the political alliance increasingly unwieldy.
The opposition leaders allied with Netanyahu have publicly expressed confidence that their parties will win a majority in elections, but behind closed doors, have been more fearful of a vote, Channel 12 reported on Tuesday.
At the same time, polls have shown that, should the current political blocs remain static, the situation will likely remain deadlocked following elections. The polls have consistently shown the parties loyal to Netanyahu faring better in a vote, but without a clear path to a majority. The Arab-majority Joint List, which supports neither side, holds the balance of power.
However, Bennett’s Yamina party has not said it would not sit with Netanyahu. In fact, its two defectors are currently advocating for an alternative government headed by Likud, and Bennett’s longtime Yamina partner — Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked — is said to be actively feeling out an option to ally with the right’s largest party.
With Yamina’s seats, a right-religious alliance polls strongly enough to build a narrow coalition.
Mansour Abbas, who leads the Islamist Ra’am party, has also said in the past that he would sit with the Likud. Abbas, who flipped the narrative of Arab politics on its head by joining a coalition, may need to attach his party to the next coalition in order to give his political revolution another chance to show results to his base.
Netanyahu, for his part, has railed against the coalition for leaning on Abbas and the opposition’s majority Arab Joint List party, and said on Monday that he would not sit with Abbas.
Netanyahu is credited with sanitizing the idea of bringing Ra’am into a coalition, though he denies doing so. It has been widely reported and claimed by Abbas that Ra’am and Likud were in coalition negotiations in spring 2021, before they fell apart at the objection of Religious Zionism.
Opposition party leaders Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism, Aryeh Deri of Shas and Bezalel Smotrich of Religious Zionism all fear far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir will peel away their voters, the Channel 12 report also said. An ultra-right firebrand who leads Otzma Yehudit, folded under Smotrich’s Religious Zionism, Ben Gvir has grown in popularity and may be in a strong position to make demands from Smotrich.
Elections will likely take place in late October or early November.