מורן אזולאי
Moran Azulay
Photo: Dana Kopel
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid

What pushed Bennett to dissolve Knesset - and what happens next?

Analysis: PM understood there is no legal evasive action to overcome failure to pass contentious West Bank bill, opting to dissolve coalition, all while keeping alternate premier, Yair Lapid, in the dark until the last minute

Moran Azulay |
Published: 06.20.22, 23:41
On Friday evening, when he told everyone that he was still making great effort to stabilize the ramshackle coalition and keep the government afloat, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had already made up his mind to dissolve the Knesset and pass the premiership to Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
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  • He made up his mind following a conversation with the Attorney General Gali Baharav Miyara, during which he attempted to understand the coalition's maneuverability. To examine whether the contentious West Bank bill - extending Israel's authority over the West Bank settlements - could be implemented despite not being approved by the Knesset.
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    נפתלי בנט  בהצהרות לתקשורת
    נפתלי בנט  בהצהרות לתקשורת
    Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid
    (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
    The coalition's failure to approve the bill in the parliament came as a blow to the government, which was left split following the dramatic vote.
    The attorney general made it clear to Bennett that there is no legal evasive action to overcome the failure to pass the legislation. The only way to extend the regulations without a majority in the Knesset is to dissolve the government before the end of June, which will result in an automatic extension of the bill.
    Once Bennett finished the conversation with the attorney general, his next call was to his wife Gilat. In that phone call he confided in her that he can no longer remain as prime minister, and instead of watching his government get humiliated over and over again, he would rather put an end to it by himself.
    In addition to the West Bank bill there was the ultimatum placed by MK Nir Orbach of Bennett's Yamina party, who said he will not vote with the coalition until the controversial emergency regulations are extended. Some might argue that Orbach led Bennett to a place of no return.
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    נפתלי בנט ויאיר לפיד במליאת הכנסת
    נפתלי בנט ויאיר לפיד במליאת הכנסת
    Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset plenum
    (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
    Bennett is said to have made the decision alone, isolating himself from most of his advisors. And no one in the political arena, including his coalition partner Lapid, knew anything about it.
    On Monday, after the Knesset meeting, many coalition partners were showing signs of optimist about the government's chances of survival. Lapid made a speech about how "those who find it difficult may resign and go home," while Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman listed the reasons why the government should continue its existence - all unaware of Bennett's dramatic decision.
    When the premier finally called Lapid to tell him the news, the foreign minister tried to glean whether the decision was final, only to realize that Bennett wants to pass the mantle to him in an attempt to redress public opinion of the political system after years of unethical breaches of various agreements.
    The move is also meant to serve as a dig at Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who has breached a power-sharing deal with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, leading to the collapse of the previous government.
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    Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked
    Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked
    Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked
    (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky, Dana Kopel, Yoav Dudkevitch)
    Bennett and Lapid agreed the current premier won't be relegated to the position of an interior minister, instead becoming the alternate prime minister in charge of the Iranian file.
    Following the decision to dissolve the government, many officials estimated that Bennett will announce his retirement from political life and won't run in the upcoming elections. But, sources close to him made it clear that he has no such intention.
    The entire affair happened while Bennett's political ally, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, is on an official visit to Morocco, where she was informed of the dramatic move. New Hope Chairman and Justice Minister Gideon Saar was also not present in the Knesset at the time of the official announcement.
    However, only time will tell if the clandestine and honorable transfer of the prime minister seat will bear fruit for Bennett at the polling stations.
    At the upcoming elections, Bennett is said to run as the head of the Yamina party once again, but according to estimations, his odds at passing the electoral threshold are not great. As a result, Bennett will likely form a political alliance with Blue and White Chairman and Defense Minister Benny Gantz - as well as with Saar's New Hope.
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    בנימין נתניהו בישיבת הסיעה
    בנימין נתניהו בישיבת הסיעה
    Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photo: Yoav Dudkevitch)
    Lapid for his part will likely try to position his Yesh Atid party as the leader of the center-left bloc, even if it comes at the expense of his current coalition partners - Labor Party and Meretz. For a long time, Lapid has been advising to shift to the American model of the two-party voting system, predicting that way a center-left bloc would have a bigger chance at forming government.
    On the right side of the political map, an internal battle is brewing. Even before the dramatic announcement, concerns were raised among the Haredi parties about far-right MK Itamar Ben-Gvir. His political agenda is gaining popularity among the Haredi youth, thus making him a key player in the election campaign.
    In the Likud party, where primaries are expected to be held soon, the main task is to torpedo the initiative to reduce the electoral threshold before the dissolution of the Knesset. Likud fears such a move may split the right-wing block, as well as the Haredi and ultra-Orthodox parties, and even lead to the creation of new political factions.
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