4 elections in 2 years: Israeli government again collapses, triggering new elections

JERUSALEM — Israel’s divided government collapsed early Wednesday, triggering the country’s fourth election in under two years and bringing an unprecedented threat to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lengthy grip on power.

Netanyahu, who is used to labeling his opponents as weak leftists, finds himself confronted by a trio of disgruntled former aides who share his hard-line ideology, led by a popular lawmaker who recently broke away from the prime minister’s Likud party. Whether Netanyahu can fend off these challengers or not, the country is almost certain to be led by a right-wing politician opposed to concessions to the Palestinians, complicating hopes of the incoming Biden administration to restart peace talks.

Netanyahu and Gantz formed their coalition last May after battling to a stalemate in three consecutive elections. They said they were putting aside their personal rivalry to form an “emergency” government focused on guiding the country through the health and economic crises caused by the pandemic. Under the deal, Gantz assumed the new role of “alternate prime minister” and was assured he would trade places with Netanyahu next November in a rotation agreement halfway through their term.

The immediate cause of the collapse was their failure to pass a budget by the midnight Tuesday deadline. That caused the parliament to automatically dissolve and set new elections for late March.

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