Israel heading towards fresh election as Netanyahu fails to form government

Vijaya Laxmi Tripura

Another general election will be held in Israel in September as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to form a coalition government. In an unprecedented move, members of Israeli Knesset have voted to dissolve the parliament after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government.

Netanyahu was unable to reach a deal for a fresh right-wing coalition following last month’s election.

At the heart of the impasse was a military conscription bill governing exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students.

Parliament voted 74-45 in favour of dissolving itself after the prime minister missed a midnight local time (21:00 GMT) deadline on Wednesday night.

Benjamin Netanyahu appeared set for a fifth term after his Likud Party won 35 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in April’s election, but he could not reach a deal with former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose support became vital.

Lieberman, from the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, had conditioned allying with ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties on changes to their military draft exemptions.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Netanyahu said: “We’ll run a sharp, clear election campaign which will bring us victory. We’ll win, we’ll win and the public will win.”

Exactly 50 days after Israel held a general election on 9 April, and just less than a month after the 21st Knesset was officially sworn in, the parliament today voted to dissolve itself with a 74 to 45 majority, thereby triggering fresh elections.

The move comes after weeks of fraught coalition talks in which re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to form a working government. Netanyahu was initially given one month to conduct negotiations but was granted a two-week extension from Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, after discussions proved difficult.

The deadline for this extension expired tonight at midnight local time [21:00 GMT, 22:00 BST].

Despite numerous last-minute attempts to reach out to potential coalition partners, each has remained steadfast in their demands, leaving Netanyahu unable to form a government within the allotted time. As a result, Israel is slated to go to the polls in September, marking the first time in its 71-year history that elections will be held twice in one year.

Knesset dissolution

The Knesset vote today pitted Netanyahu’s coalition hopefuls and the de facto opposition against one another, with Knesset Members (MKs) from the prime minister’s Likud party and its allies voting in favour of dissolution. Meanwhile, MKs from the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance – which finished with the same number of seats as Likud in April’s general election but, since Netanyahu held the position of the incumbent, was not tasked with forming the government – sought to prevent new elections.

Blue and White believed that it should be given the opportunity to form a government, as mandated by Israeli election law. Though it is unlikely that the alliance’s leader, ex-army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, will be able to rally enough support from the left-wing, centrist and Arab-dominated parties to form a coalition, he has argued he should be given the opportunity to try.

Left-wing parties supported Blue and White’s position, with Chairwoman of Meretz Tamar Zandberg arguing that today’s vote should be delayed beyond the midnight deadline, thus giving Rivlin time to name a new candidate to form the government. Zandberg explained: “We’re prepared for a filibuster [an attempt to delay a vote by extending the debate] of at least three days, which is the maximum amount of time for the president to task another Knesset member with forming a government.”

In the last minute attempt to catch the Likud party off-guard, the filibuster was eventually called off, with the opposition parties giving up their right to deliver speeches opposing the bill. The parties had hoped that, by cutting the debate short, the vote would be pushed forward before it garnered support from enough MKs to pass.

Interestingly, the predominantly Arab-Israeli alliances – Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad – today seemed to be split on whether to support the Knesset’s dissolution. Hadash-Ta’al, the bigger of the two factions, abstained from the first reading of the bill, with party number two Ahmad Tibi saying: “Our position hasn’t changed, because we don’t want to be pawns in the game of spins Netanyahu and [Likud MK] Miki Zohar are leading. It’s important for us that Netanyahu go to the president and say ‘I’ve failed’.”

Meanwhile, Ra’am-Balad Chair Mansour Abbas said that his alliance would support dissolving the Knesset, saying that “if there would be a realistic alternative for another Knesset member to form a government, we’ll reconsider our decision to support the bill to dissolve the Knesset”. Abbas’ number two, Mtanes Shehadeh, added that the party “wouldn’t miss a chance to take down Netanyahu’s government”.

In tonight’s final vote, all ten Arab-Israeli Knesset members voted in favour of dissolving the Knesset.

A fresh election would bring good news for Benjamin Netanyahu

A poll conducted Sunday by Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv showed that if elections were held today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would secure a larger coalition, with the right-wing bloc securing 68 Knesset seats, compared to 65 in the April elections.

The survey showed Likud retaining 35 seats, while the Blue and White list dropped one to 34 seats. The two Haredi parties, meanwhile, Shas and United Torah Judaism, both remained on eight seats each.

Yisrael Beiteinu, headed by Avigdor Lieberman, rose in the latest poll from five to six Knesset seats, while the Union of Right Parties headed by Bezalel Smotrich, similarly rises from five to six seats.

The main surprise of the new poll is that the New Right party headed by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked would secure five seats in the new Knesset, in contrast to their failure to meet the threshold last time.

According to the report, “the poll foresees disaster for two parties” – Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu and the United Arab List. While both won four seats in the last election, the survey shows that neither party is expected to pass the electoral threshold.

“The bottom line is that if the elections were held today, the right-wing bloc would have 68 Knesset seats, which would make it easier for Netanyahu to form a government”, the report summarised.

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