The government’s bill to dissolve the Knesset easily passed its first reading Monday night, 109 votes to 1. Negotiations on the second and third readings were expected to last long into the night, but were put on hold after it was disclosed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz were holding talks on a unity government.
Netanyahu had earlier Monday announced at a cabinet meeting that new elections would be held on September 4, saying the next government would have to deal with Israel’s core issues.
After thanking his ministers for the past three years, Netanyahu said that although the government was one of the most stable in Israel’s history, recent instability could lead to extortion — apparently a reference to pressure from minor coalition parties.
Such a situation would harm Israel’s basic pillars of security, economy and society, the prime minister said. He added that after the elections he intended to form “a wide and stable coalition,” capable of dealing with the burning core issues and the country’s needs.
Netanyahu was expected to name the election date Sunday night at his Likud party’s convention in Tel Aviv, but in the end put it off for a day.
Recent polls have Likud cruising to an easy victory in upcoming elections, with 30 or so seats coming its way. Other coalition partners, like the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, are expected to lose seats.
A recent Maariv poll had the Likud winning 31 out of the 120 available Knesset seats.
Labor is on track to become the second-largest party, with 18 seats, according to the survey.
Led by its new chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, Labor would like to revive its glory days as the country’s ruling party. Yachimovich said, in a Saturday interview to Channel 2, that people must stop being fixated with the notion that only Netanyahu can be prime minister. But in the same interview, she said that she would not rule out participating in a coalition led by him. “Politics is a means to an end,” she said. “Not an end in itself.” Her first goal was indeed to oust Netanyahu, but if she could not, in the interim she might have to work with him toward her wider agenda, she said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party is predicted to win 12 seats. Kadima, under the new leadership of Mofaz, and the recently founded Yesh Atid party, led by political newcomer Yair Lapid, are each set to win 11 seats, according to the survey — which would mean a remarkable debut for Lapid and a disaster for Kadima, which holds 28 seats in the outgoing parliament.
There has been much discussion over the reasons for holding elections nearly a year before their scheduled date. Some of those suggested include: potential inability to pass a budget, strife over legislation ordering the enlistment to military or national service for ultra-Orthodox Jews, and anticipation of social upheaval as the result of citizen unrest over cost of living issues.
But on Friday, Channel 2′s senior analyst Amnon Abramovich said Netanyahu is calling early elections so that he and his transition government will be free to deal with Iran’s nuclear program this fall, with a fresh mandate from the public, before the election of a US president, and with Defense Minister Ehud Barak — who may be a political casualty of the elections — still at his side.
In response, the left-wing Meretz party chairwoman Zahava Gal-On said Saturday that the notion that Israel could attack Iran while the US president is engaged in election campaigning and the Knesset is in recess was illegitimate and “childish.”
“The idea of taking advantage of the fact that the parents are away from home is childish because the parents will return and the punishment will be severe,” said Gal-On. “An interim government lacks the moral authority and public legitimacy to take such action.”