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Israel lawmakers give initial approval for early election

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hoping for a comeback after incumbent premier Naftali Bennett said his governing coalition will dissolve parliament next week, forcing new elections
— Jerusalem (AFP)

Israeli lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to advance legislation to dissolve parliament and call an early election, after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said his eight-party coalition was no longer tenable.

The government has said it wants to fast-track parliament's dissolution but the opposition led by ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu may attempt to derail the process, in a bid to form a replacement government without the need for what would be Israel's fifth election in less than four years.

The government's bill still needs to pass a committee vote and three further votes in the full parliament before an early election is called.

In a complex day of legislative manoeuvres that included fiery debate, Israel's parliament gave near unanimous approval to 11 separate bills to dissolve parliament, drafted by both coalition and opposition lawmakers.

The bills are expected to be united into one, but timelines for that process remain unclear and could depend on Netanyahu's political calculations.

If final dissolution legislation is approved, new elections could held in late October or early November, according to Israeli reports.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid would take charge as prime minister of a caretaker government, in accordance with a power-sharing deal he reached with Bennett after 2021 elections, when the pair forged an alliance of ideological rivals united in their desire to oust Netanyahu.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) attend the preliminary vote on a bill to dissolve parliament and call an early election

Netanyahu has cheered the coalition's collapse and vowed to form a new right-wing government, with or without fresh elections.

His Likud party has been courting potential defectors from coalition ranks to give him the parliamentary majority he needs for a snap return to power.

Those being wooed include religious nationalists from within Bennett's own Yamina party and hawks from Justice Minister Gideon Saar's New Hope party.

"Until the dissolution law is finalised there's still the option of an alternate government, a government headed by Netanyahu," Likud lawmaker Miri Regev told army radio.

A slew of opinion polls conducted after Bennett's shock announcement late Monday that his coalition could no longer govern pointed to gridlock between supporters and opponents of Netanyahu.

Four separate polls found that neither bloc would secure the 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120-seat parliament.