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Israel's Bennett thanks cabinet with end of tenure looming

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and  Foreign Minister Yair Lapid attend a cabinet meeting ahead of parliament's expected dissolution
— Jerusalem (AFP)

Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hosted what was almost certainly his final cabinet meeting Sunday, commending his government as "short-lived with great achievements", ahead of parliament's expected dissolution this week.

Bennett, who took charge of an ideologically-divided eight-party alliance in June 2021, conceded last week that his coalition was no longer tenable, a shock announcement that is likely sending Israel to its fifth election in four years.

"Soon, unfortunately, the State of Israel will head toward elections," he told his ministers, with parliament due to hold a final vote to dissolve itself as early as Monday.

"This was an excellent government, which depended on a complex coalition. There is here a group of people who knew how to put aside ideological differences, rise above and act for the State of Israel," he added, referring to an unprecedented alliance that counted right-wingers, centrists, doves and Arab Islamists.

"There are governments that last but which have few achievements; ours was a short-lived government with great achievements," the religious nationalist premier said.

Jordan's King Abdullah II (R) receives Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (L), at Al-Husseiniya Palace in the capital Amman

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas meanwhile arrived Sunday in Amman, where he met Jordan's King Abdullah II to discuss the implications of the Knesset's dissolution on prospects for peace.

The king told Abbas that "Jordan is in continuous contact with the United States and is working for the Palestinian cause to be at the forefront of President Joe Biden's agenda during his visit to the region next month," according to a statement from his office.

Biden is due to visit Saudi Arabia in July, after Washington has repeatedly hinted at improved ties with Israel. He will attend a summit with leaders from Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, as well as the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council.

Israeli media have reported former prime minister and current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu had held talks on forming a new Israeli government within this parliament, averting elections.

But those negotiations reportedly made little progress, meaning a bill to dissolve parliament was expected to earn a comfortable majority in Israel's 120-member parliament, the Knesset.

Once parliament dissolves, Israel's caretaker government will be headed by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, in accordance with a power-sharing deal the pair reached following inconclusive elections last year.

The Bennett coalition was imperilled by ideological divides from its outset.

The final straw, according to the premier, was a failure to renew a measure that ensures Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank live under Israeli law.

Bennett, the former head of a settler lobby group, said the measure's expiration on June 30 would have brought security risks and "constitutional chaos".

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