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Lapid becomes prime minister as Israel approaches elections

Lapid becomes prime minister as Israel approaches elections

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli lawmakers will vote to dissolve parliament, opening the way for the country’s fifth election in three years, after weeks of lobbying on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s fragile ruling coalition.

Bennett will step down to be replaced by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, his partner in the unlikely coalition of opponents that ended former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year rule 12 months ago.

Lapid, a former journalist who heads the largest party in the coalition, will serve as interim prime minister until new elections can be held.

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An official said that a vote would be held in parliament next week, after which Lapid would become prime minister.

“I think the government has done a very good job over the past year. It is a shame that the country is being dragged into elections,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz, head of a centrist party in the coalition, said.

“But we will continue to act as an interim government as much as possible,” he said.

The move comes just weeks before a scheduled visit by US President Joe Biden on which the government has been counting to help bolster regional security ties against Israel’s longtime enemy Iran.

The future of the eight-party coalition, which includes right-wing, liberal and hard-line Arab parties, looked increasingly threatened as a handful of members pulled out, leaving it without a clear majority in parliament.

As pressure has mounted on the government in recent days, Bennett, a former special forces and tech millionaire who entered national politics in 2013, said his government has boosted economic growth, reduced unemployment, and eliminated deficits for the first time in 14 years.

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But he was unable to keep the coalition together and decided to step down before Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party could submit its own motion to dissolve parliament.

Netanyahu, who has vowed to return despite facing trial on corruption charges, mocked Bennett, a former close aide, saying last week that his government was holding “one of the longest funerals in history”.

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(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch). Editing by Alex Richardson and Philippa Fletcher

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