Along with his key coalition ally, Foreign Secretary Yair Lapid – who now looks set to replace him as leader as early as next week – Bennett has agreed to submit a bill to dissolve parliament, which, if he passed, would trigger a general election later this year. .
The announcement follows weeks of growing political uncertainty in Israel, but remains a major surprise.
A brief statement from the prime minister’s office said the move came “after attempts to stabilize the coalition were exhausted”. A bill will be submitted to parliament sometime next week, the statement added.
If passed, Lapid will become the country’s fourteenth prime minister, as per the initial coalition agreement reached last year. It also means that Israelis will go to the polls for the fifth time in less than four years.
Among the first items on Lapid’s agenda, assuming he becomes leader, will be preparing for the visit of US President Joe Biden next month. A senior administration official said the president’s trip to the Middle East is still expected to continue despite the political upheaval in Israel.
“We have a strategic relationship with Israel that goes beyond any government. The president is looking forward to the visit next month,” the White House official said.
The Bennett-Lapid government was sworn in in June last year, ending Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister, which had lasted about twelve and a half years.
Made up of no less than eight political parties, the coalition spanned the political spectrum, including for the first time an Arab party, led by Mansour Abbas.
United in a desire to prevent Netanyahu – whose corruption trial had already begun in May 2020 – from staying in power, the disparate coalition partners agreed to put aside their substantive differences.
In November, he achieved a significant national achievement, passing a state budget for the first time in nearly four years.
But in recent weeks a number of coalition members have resigned or threatened to resign, leaving the government without a majority in parliament to pass laws.
The political impasse came to a head earlier this month, when a vote in the Knesset failed to confirm the application of Israeli criminal and civil law to Israelis in the occupied West Bank.
Among other things, the settlement, which must be renewed every five years, gives Israeli settlers the same rights as citizens in Israel, and is an article of faith for right-wing coalition members, including Prime Minister Bennett. .
But two coalition members did not support the bill, meaning it did not pass. If parliament dissolves before July 1, the rules will remain in place until a new government is formed.
Speaking alongside Lapid on Monday evening, Bennett said their government had swept away what he called the bitterness and paralysis of the Netanyahu era, instead putting decency and trust at the center of the Warning.
“Over the past few weeks, we have done everything to save this government. In our view, its continued existence was in the national interest. Believe me, we looked under every rock. We didn’t do that. for ourselves, but for our beautiful country, for you, the citizens of Israel.”
For his part, Lapid paid tribute to Bennett as a courageous and innovative leader. And he appeared to offer a stark warning of the dangers posed by a return to Netanyahu’s leadership.
“What we need to do today is return to the concept of Israeli unity. Not to let the dark forces tear us apart from within,” he said.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, was optimistic, saying the country was smiling after what he called an evening of good news.
“After a determined struggle by the opposition in the Knesset and great public suffering in Israel, it is clear to everyone that the most dismal government in the country’s history has come to an end.”
Netanyahu and his supporters have been buoyed by the most recent opinion polls, which show his bloc of right-wing and religious parties doing well, but not yet enough to win a majority in parliament.