Israeli parliamentarians will vote to dissolve parliament, opening the way for the country’s fifth election in three years, following weeks of pressure on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s fragile ruling coalition.
Mr Bennett will step aside to be replaced by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, his partner in the unlikely coalition of opposites that ended former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s record 12-year rule 12 months ago.
Mr Lapid, a former journalist who heads the largest party in the coalition, will serve as interim prime minister until new elections can be held.
“We are standing before you today in a moment that is not easy, but with the understanding we made the right decision for Israel,” Mr Bennett said in a televised statement as he stood alongside Mr Lapid.
There would be a vote in parliament next week, after which Mr Lapid would take over the premiership, Mr Bennett’s spokesperson said.
The move comes just weeks ahead of a planned visit by US President Joe Biden, which the government had been counting on to help boost regional security ties against Israel’s longtime enemy Iran.
However the eight-party coalition, including conservative, progressive and Arab parties with deep differences on questions from religion to the Palestinian issue, had faced growing strains as its slight majority was cut by defections.
“I think the government did very good work over the past year. It’s a shame the country has to be dragged into elections,” Defence Minister Benny Gantz, head of a centrist party in the coalition, said.
“But we will continue to function as a temporary government as much as possible.”
A date for the snap parliamentary election was not announced but Israeli media reported it was likely to take place in October.
Mr Lapid said he would not wait until new elections to address the problems facing Israel.
“We need to tackle the cost of living, wage the campaign against Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah and stand against the forces threatening to turn Israel into a non-democratic country,” he said.
Mr Bennett, a former commando and tech millionaire who entered politics in 2013, defended his government’s record. He said it had boosted economic growth, cut unemployment and eliminated the deficit for the first time in 14 years.
But as pressure on the government increased in recent days, he was unable to hold the coalition together and decided to step aside before Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party could table a motion of its own to dissolve parliament.
Mr Netanyahu, who has vowed a comeback despite facing trial for corruption, said Mr Likud would lead the next government and he poured scorn on Mr Bennett, who was once one of his closest aides.
“This is an evening of great news for millions of citizens in Israel,” Mr Netanyahu said.
“It’s clear to everyone that this government has been the biggest failure in the country’s history.”