With the Knesset set to disband on Wednesday, what happens next?
With the ideological ties that bound Israel’s big-tent coalition having frayed, the 24th Knesset is set to dissolve itself by midnight on Wednesday, just over a year after being sworn in.
After that happens, three big changes will take place: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will succeed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as premier on Thursday; Israel will go to its fifth elections since 2019 in the fall; and the Knesset will largely cease to function, with the government shifting into caretaker status.
The political shake-up comes in the wake of Bennett and Lapid’s dramatic June 20 announcement that they would draw the curtains on their own government. Since losing its one-seat parliamentary majority in April, the shaky coalition had been unable to stabilize.
Bennett said on Saturday that the imminent threat of a successful opposition-led bid to disperse the Knesset, coupled with the June 30 deadline for averting a potentially chaotic legal situation for Jewish settlers in the West Bank, was the immediate catalyst for his decision to close up shop.
While the coalition hopes to finalize the Knesset’s dispersal by Wednesday evening, it still has several outstanding arguments with the opposition. Most significantly, the sides are bickering over when to schedule the elections, with their preferred dates one week apart.
The right-religious opposition bloc is pushing for October 25, hoping for better turnout and on-the-ground manpower because it’s a day before religious schools reopen after the Jewish holiday season. Coalition parties and the opposition’s majority-Arab Joint List party prefer November 1, which would both deny the right its perceived boost and allow interim prime minister Lapid another week in power.
As caretaker prime minister, Lapid will be constrained in his ability to push a new agenda, and without the Knesset, he will not be advancing legislation, except in narrow, special circumstances.
That said, Lapid will be caretaker prime minister for at least four months, and possibly much longer, should post-election coalition formation prove protracted or impossible. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu held the interim title intermittently in the two years between 2019 and 2021, when Israel cycled through four elections.
Only entering politics a decade ago, the centrist former TV anchor will be the first non-right-wing prime minister since Ehud Barak left office in 2001, and one of the few without significant military experience.
What to expect during the election period
Although the election date will only be set alongside the Knesset’s finalized dispersal on Wednesday evening, it is expected to be either October 25 or November 1. By Israeli law, it must be a Tuesday and is granted as a national holiday with paid time off from work.
Elections will happen in two major phases. First, parties that hold primaries will conduct them before submitting their candidate slates, which must happen no later than 47 days prior to elections. This means either September 8 or 15, depending on the general election date.
While none of the parties has announced a formal date for primaries, Likud, Meretz, and Labor are expected to hold them. Many of the parties split their leadership primary from primaries for the rest of their slates. Labor has announced a leadership primary for July 18, although it’s unclear if there is a candidate emerging to challenge Merav Michaeli.
In the second phase, after party slates are set, campaigns are expected to accelerate. Israeli voters do not vote for individual candidates in national elections, but rather parties. Knesset members are allocated based on their spot on their party slate and each party is apportioned members based on their results in a nation-wide, single-district vote. A party must clear the Knesset threshold — currently set at 3.25% of votes cast nationwide — to be eligible for seats.