Mon, 15 Aug 2022

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JERUSALEM, June 30 (Xinhua) -- Israeli lawmakers voted to dissolve the parliament on Thursday, ending Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's year-long coalition government and sending the country back to polls for the fifth time in fewer than four years, in a move that could see former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back in power.

The 120-member parliament voted 92-0 to dissolve itself and hold the next elections on Nov. 1, a parliamentary spokesperson said in a statement.

Bennett is expected to hand power to Yair Lapid, Israeli foreign minister and leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, under the power-sharing deal they agreed upon following inconclusive elections in 2021.

The change of power will become effective as of Friday and Lapid will hold the position until the next government is formed.

Lapid, a former journalist and media personality, will become Israel's 14th prime minister, replacing Bennett, the country's shortest-serving leader.

Video footage on social media showed Bennett at the parliament plenum after the vote, rising up from his chair and gesturing to Lapid to exchange seats with him.

As interim prime minister, Lapid, 58, has a schedule filled with diplomatic and security issues. On Sunday, he will host his first cabinet meeting as prime minister. Two days later he will travel to Paris to meet French President Emmanuel Macron.

In mid-July, he will be the one to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden, whose pre-scheduled trip to the Middle East covers Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel hopes the White House will help form security cooperation with Saudi Arabia against possible Iranian attacks.

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The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in Gulf agreed in 2020 to normalize their ties with Israel under the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords, but Saudi Arabia has not followed.

Bennett's coalition pushed for rapid approval of the dissolution bill after he announced last week that his government was no longer tenable.

The coalition was inaugurated in June 2021, when Bennett and Lapid formed it after two years of political crisis in which no candidate, including Netanyahu, could gain enough votes to form a government.

It is made up of eight ideologically diverse parties, including liberal Doves, secular Hawks, religious pro-settlers and the Islamic party of Ra'am, marking the first time an Arab party was part of a coalition government in Israel. The sole motive that united them was to oust Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader who is facing criminal trial on three separate cases of corruption scandals.

A series of defections left the coalition without a majority in the parliament for more than two months.

Bennett said he and Lapid decided to call for new elections in the wake of their failure to pass regulations that provide protections for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank. The regulations will expire at the end of June, but the opposition, mostly pro-settler parties, voted against a government-backed bill to extend them in order to force the coalition to resign.

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Bennett, leader of the pro-settler party of Yamina, said the expiry of the regulations will create "horrible damage" and he prefers to disband his coalition.

Netanyahu and his allies said earlier that they had been holding talks to form a new government led by Netanyahu within the current parliament without going to new elections. But negotiations showed little progress and the opposition agreed to vote in favor of the bill.

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