The Irish Times view on Israeli politics: back to the ballot box

Likud’s return to power may only be possible if it ditches Binyamin Netanyahu as leader

On its behalf, the case is made that the collapsed Israeli eight-party government, in office barely a year, was the most ideologically, ethnically, and religiously diverse administration in the state’s history. It encompassed Orthodox Jews and conservative Islamists, hip Tel Avivians and former generals, the nationalist right and the peace movement left A worthwhile experiment, outgoing prime minister Naftali Bennett claims. Yet, although diverse and unusually polite internally, the coalition singularly failed to deliver in government and fell apart slowly, as it was bound to do, over its internal contradictions.

What had held it together at all was a simple premise: to exclude from power Binyamin Netanyahu, now still on trial for corruption, who had governed Israel for 15 of the past 26 years. Now the crumbling coalition has thrown the latter a lifeline — either he can muster a parliamentary majority and resume his prime ministerial role, a most unlikely prospect, or the country will go back to the polls for the fifth time in three years, probably in October. Netanyahu, desperate to return to office, is likely to then see his Likud party emerge as the largest party but well short of an elusive majority for any party or coalition. Observers suggest Likud’s return to power may only be possible then if it ditches its leader. He will not go willingly, despite plenty of evidence that Israelis have had enough of him. Yair Lapid, leader of the coalition’s largest party the centrist Yesh Atid, will take over as caretaker prime minister ahead of the election.

Election fatigue is unlikely, however, to break the gridlock of the unchanged Israeli political landscape whose dynamic — and lack of dynamism — remains a seemingly insuperable obstacle to any hope of peace with Palestinians. Indeed, among the coalition’s unpassed Bills was one renewing controversial rules applying parts of Israeli law to Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank. The regulations expire at the end of June but with the calling of the election will now be renewed automatically.