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Why does Israel have so many elections?

by YAR

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel is moving in the coming days to dissolve parliament and topple his own government a year after taking office, a process that will automatically trigger new elections within months. The dissolution bill has been scheduled for a preliminary vote on Wednesday.

Bennett’s coalition had started with a slim majority and recently lost it, making it impossible to govern.

A new election will give Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and now opposition leader, a chance to return even as he is fighting corruption charges. Still, his path back to power is far from assured.

Barring the unlikely scenario that Mr. Netanyahu or another party leader is able to form an alternative coalition with at least 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament, Israelis will return to the polls in the fall for the fifth time in less than four years.

Here are some reasons.

Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a proportional representation electoral system. No party has ever won enough votes to obtain an absolute majority in Parliament. Instead, larger parties must form coalitions by enlisting the support of smaller parties that negotiate to protect their narrow interests and often end up wielding disproportionate power.

The last few years have been particularly tumultuous. Between April 2019 and March 2021, Israel held four elections that ended inconclusively, with a parliament roughly divided between parties allied with Netanyahu, who has served a total of 15 years in office, and those opposed to his attempts to remain in power.

Mr. Bennett, the leader of a small right-wing party, has led a difficult eight-party coalition made up of political opponents from the right, left and center with conflicting ideological agendas, and which included the first independent Arab party to join. an Israeli coalition government.

Dubbed by some as the “Kumbaya coalition,” its partners were united in their desire to restore a sense of national unity and stability, and most importantly, to oust Netanyahu after 12 consecutive years in office.

But tensions within the coalition over politics and relentless pressure from Netanyahu and his allies led two members of Bennett’s Yamina party to leave the coalition. Several Arab and left-wing lawmakers also rioted in key votes, leading to government paralysis and then implosion.

Once the dissolution of Parliament is finally approved, most likely before the end of June, Bennett will hand over power to Yair Lapid, the centrist foreign minister and former TV personality, who will head a caretaker government for at least several months. . until the election and for the duration of the protracted coalition negotiations that are likely to follow.

Under the terms of the coalition deal, Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, Israel’s second-largest party after Netanyahu’s conservative Likud, was supposed to replace Bennett as prime minister in August 2023.

But the agreement included a safety clause in case the government did not last that long. It stipulated that if Parliament was dissolved due to the actions of right-wing coalition members, as is the case, Mr Lapid would automatically become interim prime minister of the interim government.

A date for the election has not yet been set, but a consensus seems to be emerging that it will take place in late October or early November.

Netanyahu and his Likud party lead the polls, followed by Lapid and Yesh Atid. Bennett, whose Yamina party held just six seats in Parliament when he was sworn in last year, does not appear to have gained much additional support.

The leader of the party that gets the most votes is usually given the first chance to form a government. Bennett’s case was highly unusual: he served as prime minister because he was seen as the most acceptable to the right flank of the diverse coalition.

A fifth election may not produce a more definitive result or a more stable government than the previous four, according to analysts.

“We have been to this movie four times and we can get similar results a fifth time,” said Gideon Rahat, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“On Netanyahu’s side, there may be 1,000 elections,” Professor Rahat added. “He is prepared to shuffle the deck over and over again until he wins.”

Netanyahu’s allies hope that disappointment with the Bennett government will drive right-wing voters who had abandoned Netanyahu back into the pro-Netanyahu camp.

“A lot of people have changed their minds,” said Tzachi Hanegbi, a veteran Likud lawmaker and former minister, pointing to opinion polls showing an erosion in support for some parties in Bennett’s coalition.

But unless Netanyahu emerges victorious and forms the next government, said Ben Caspit, a political commentator and author of two Netanyahu biographies, this could be his last election campaign as some of his political allies seem less inclined to tolerate another failure.

This latest political upheaval comes amid an escalation in a clandestine battle between Israel and Iran. And the conflict with the Palestinians looms over every election.

This time, the integration of Israel’s Arab parties into the national government is likely to be in the spotlight. Mr. Netanyahu repeatedly tried to delegitimize Mr. Bennett’s government as “dependent on supporters of terrorism”, referring to Arab politicians who are citizens of Israel.

Center and left Israelis counter that a Netanyahu government will depend on far-right extremists.

Netanyahu has promised more peace deals with once-hostile countries. With the help of the Trump administration, he had established diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco.

The rising cost of living and skyrocketing home prices are perhaps of most concern to many voters.

Netanyahu’s critics said that if he returns to power, Israel’s very democracy would be at stake as his allies call for restrictions on the judicial system and the cancellation of his trial.

“He wants to crush Israeli democracy and establish a corrupt dictatorship without courts and with means that serve him,” said Or-Ly Barlev, an Israeli social activist and freelance journalist. “We are on the brink of an abyss.”

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