Why is this important: Bennett was set to strike a power-sharing deal with centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid who would have made him prime minister for two years until Lapid took office. Without Bennett, Lapid has no path to a majority, and Israel will almost certainly head to its fifth election since 2019 with Netanyahu still in office.
The big picture: After another undecided election in March, Netanyahu had the first opportunity to form a government but failed to do so. The tenure then passed to Lapid last week, leaving Netanyahu in his most vulnerable political position since becoming prime minister in 2009.
- In addition to convincing Bennett to join his center-left bloc, Lapid also needed the support of an Arab party to achieve a majority. Thus, he also negotiated with Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Islamist party Raam.
Driving the news: Those negotiations were suspended after the fighting in Gaza began on Monday, with Abbas suspended his participation and Bennett also hesitating.
- Just as the crisis has made it politically difficult for Abbas to consider joining the next Israeli government, it has also increased pressure on conservative Bennett to reject any pact with Ra’am, which is a sister movement of Hamas.
Bennett announced Thursday that an alternative government was no longer on the table, and said he would instead negotiate with Netanyahu over a potential right-wing government.
- He cited the “emergency situation” in Israeli cities which have both Israeli and Arab citizens, which he said “requires the use of force and sending the military to the cities” – something which would be impossible in a government backed by Ra’am.
- Lapid gave a speech shortly after and said Bennett was making a mistake. He stressed that he would continue to try to form a government for the remaining 20 days in his term. “If we can’t, we’ll go for an unnecessary election and we’ll win,” Lapid said.
Between the lines: The collapse of the alternative government shows the profound effect of inter-communal violence in Israel on the country’s politics, far beyond the fighting in Gaza.
And after: Lapid’s term of office will be followed by a 21-day period during which any member of the Knesset can form a government if they can gain the support of 61 members of the 120-member body.
- During this period, Netanyahu is expected to try to pass a law to change the electoral system to allow prime ministers to be directly elected.
- Bennett could potentially strike a deal with Netanyahu to merge his Yamina party with Netanyahu’s Likud to secure the top spots on Likud’s electoral roll.
To note: Netanyahu is likely to lead the next election campaign while facing trial for corruption.