After a turbulent period in Israeli politics, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Tuesday night that the country would be heading to the polls in the spring. This makes the current Knesset, the country’s 19th, the second shortest in its history.
The announcement came after Netanyahu opted to fire two key ministers who in recent weeks have stood against him on a number of key issues. “In recent weeks, including the last 24 hours, Ministers [Yair] Lapid [Finance, Yesh Atid party] and [Tzipi] Livni [Justice, Hatnua party] harshly attacked the government under my leadership. I won’t tolerate any more opposition within the government; I won’t tolerate ministers attacking from within the government the government’s policies and its leader,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
At a press conference, Netanyahu accused both Lapid and Livni of working to undermine his government from within. “In May of this year [Livni] met with Mahmoud Abbas in complete contrast to the cabinet’s decision not meet with him at the time, as well as against my explicit order not to hold the meeting. Later she went on to say, while serving as the justice minister, ‘Netanyahu’s boycott of Abbas is stupid.’ And today she once again attacked the government under my leadership.”
Lapid, Netanyahu said, “is a finance minister who failed in the managing of the economy and secretly joins forces with the justice minister to act against the government and its leader. In one word, it’s called a putsch.”
Remaining ministers from Yesh Atid declared they would resign if not fired first, Ynetnews reported. Hatnua no longer has other ministers in the cabinet.
Now, the dissolution of the Knesset must be put to an official vote and an election date must be chosen. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein was set to meet with faction heads Wednesday morning, and March 17 has been chosen, according to Israel Army Radio. According to Israeli law, elections must take place no less than 90 days after the dissolution of the previous Knesset.
Israel National News reported on a Channel 2 poll which shows Netanyahu’s Likud party remaining the largest party in Knesset, taking 22 of a possible 120 seats. The second-largest party would be the Jewish Home party, with 17 seats, and Yesh Atid would drop from its current 19 seats to a mere 9.
The elections themselves, based on the last ones, will cost the taxpayer about NIS 450 million (over $112 million US), but the peripheral costs, including the lost productivity of the day off work to vote, could reach NIS 1.5 billion (over $377 million US), reported Ynetnews.
The English-language affiliate of Yedioth Achronoth also identified a number of laws that would be stopped in their tracks because of the upcoming elections. These include Lapid’s flagship zero percent VAT on new appartments for young couples and several other economic reforms.
The Times of Israel reported on the US reaction to the news. US Secretary of State John Kerry refused to comment on internal Israeli politics, but said the US would continue to support its Middle Eastern ally. He shared his hopes for the new Israeli government: “Obviously, we hope that whatever government is formed is a government…that can negotiate and move towards resolving the differences between Israelis and Palestinians, and obviously, the differences in the region.”