Israeli lawmakers took an unprecedented step on Wednesday to dissolve the Knesset, throwing the country back into another election season just weeks after a national election.
After a 12-hour debate, lawmakers approved a measure by a vote of 74 to 45 to dissolve the 21st Knesset and hold new elections on September 17. The Likud-sponsored bill was supported by fellow right-wing parties Yisrael Beitenu, United Torah Judaism, Shas and the Union of Right-Wing Parties as well as two Israeli Arab parties, Ra’am Balad and Hadash Ta’al.
As one of the only acts of the 21st Knesset, the decision to dissolve the parliament came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a governing coalition.
The failure largely came as a result of an impasse between former defense minister and Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Lieberman and the ultra-Orthodox parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism over a military draft bill.
Netanyahu needed 61 seats to form a governing coalition. Without Yisrael Beiteinu’s five seats, the Israeli premier would only have 60 seats in his right-wing coalition. As such, the move to dissolve the Knesset was set to preempt Israeli President Reuven Rivlin from choosing someone else to form a governing coalition after the May 30 deadline.
Lieberman, whose party draws support from Israel’s largely secular Russian immigrant community, refused to join the government unless the draft bill, which was crafted in the last Knesset, would be passed unaltered, which the ultra-Orthodox parties dismissed outright.
“To my sorrow, the state of Israel is going to elections,” Lieberman told reporters at the Knesset. “We are natural partners in a right-wing government; we won’t be partners in a halachic government.”
“The Likud failed in this work of building a coalition… and they and the Haredim are to blame for Israel going to elections.”
In a statement, Netanyahu largely blamed Lieberman for the failure to form a government.
“The public in Israel made a clear decision. It decided that I will be prime minister, that the Likud will lead the government, a right-wing government,” said Netanyahu. “The public voted for me to lead the state of Israel.”
“All of the requests and demands of Yisrael Beitenu were repeatedly rejected,” continued Netanyahu. “I presented a proposal. He rejected it. He wanted, in the clearest way, to bring down the government.”
“Avigdor Liberman is now part of the left. He brings down right-wing governments. Don’t believe him again,” he said.
The dissolution of the Knesset comes after a frantic day of political offers and horse trading that saw Likud negotiators offer a wide range of ministries and legislative promises to members of the Labor Party and Blue and White Party, who are both set to sit in the opposition.
As one of the biggest possible political bombshells, Likud offered Labor to join the coalition in exchange for possible portfolios such as Finance and Justice. Even senior Labor MK Amir Peretz was reportedly offered the presidency following the end of Rivlin’s term. The reports also suggested that the government would nix legislation to override the Supreme Court and immunity for Netanyahu.
However, Labor reportedly rejected these offers after serious consideration.
Additionally, reports indicated that Likud negotiators looked into the possibility of bringing in some members of the Blue and White Party into the coalition. MKs were offered a range of portfolios from Defense and Finance, to Justice, Culture and Communications. Others were also offered future appointments as ambassadors or favorable legislation for specific MKs such as addressing Druze concerns over the nation-state law or speeding up the immigration of Ethiopia’s Falash Mura community.
In the hours before the vote to dissolve parliament, reports also surfaced of a compromise deal between Lieberman and the ultra-Orthodox parties whereas the military draft bill would get a first reading and afterwards would proceed for a second and third reading by “mutual consent.”
Likud purportedly pressured the ultra-Orthodox parties to back the proposal or risk going back to the original military draft law, which would mean thousands of a ultra-Orthodox men would be liable to be drafted.
In the end, all the negotiations and proposals were rejected.
In his comments following the dissolution, Netanyahu declared that Likud “will run a sharp and clear election campaign, and we will win.”