Knesset members voted overwhelmingly in favor of dissolving the current Knesset in a preliminary vote on Wednesday. Eighty-four MKs supported the measure, none opposed it, and one Knesset member abstained.
A first reading of the bill later Wednesday was also approved, with all 22 Knesset members present voting in favor.
The move will be finalized on Monday with second and third readings.
Knesset faction leaders agreed on March 17, 2015, as the date for new elections, in a meeting with Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein on Wednesday morning. “We mustn’t abuse the public. We cannot take our time,” Edelstein said during the meeting. The date must be approved by the factions before it becomes official.
During the meeting with Edelstein, Likud and Jewish Home faction leaders requested a March 10 election date, Labor wanted March 17, and the ultra-Orthodox parties asked for March 24, while the Arab parties sought to delay the vote until May, the Ynet news site reported.
MK Ahmad Tibi of the Ra’am Ta’al party indicated that the Arab parties would merge in response to the raising of the Knesset electoral threshold to 3.25%.
“[Foreign Minister Avigdor] Liberman, who raised the threshold, wanted to rid the Knesset of the Arab parties. It challenges us all to join together,” he said, adding that “the public wants a single list.” Similarly, Balad party leader Jamal Zahalka appealed for more time before elections to allow the Arab parties to reassemble, but his request was rejected, and the earlier date approved.
Speaking after the meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Likud Knesset members that the party needed to secure “a large faction in the next elections.”
“This is my main lesson from the outgoing government,” he said.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog told a Labor faction meeting that “We are the alternative” to Netanyahu, adding that “we will win these elections.”
“Netanyahu’s six bad years have come to an end. The Labor Party will establish the next government… The people of Israel deserves a more responsible leadership,” he said.
Tzipi Livni, who was fired from her position as justice minister on Tuesday night, sharply criticized the prime minister for his “hysterical” speech and what she characterized as political cowardice in what is emerging as a major talking point of both her Hatnua party and the similarly ousted Yesh Atid.
“The truth behind the hysterical talk yesterday is that we have a prime minister who is afraid,” she told the Hatnua Knesset faction. “A prime minister who is afraid of his ministers is even more afraid of the outside world, and his way of dealing with his fears is through his speeches. The problem is that in facing the real threats against Israel, the regional threats, speeches don’t help.
“The even more bleak truth is that the prime minister is afraid, politically, of everyone, but is even more fearful of the radical group in Likud and in the coalition,” she said.
Livni accused the prime minister of “not speaking the truth,” of ethical violations, and of eroding the legitimate and historical right of Jews to a Jewish state through his actions — a jab at the prime minister’s controversial “Jewish state” bill.
Netanyahu on Tuesday launched a fierce assault on his coalition partners ministers Yair Lapid and Livni, accused them of attempting a “putsch” to oust him, fired them both, and announced that he would dissolve his government ahead of early elections.
Members of the Yesh Atid party tendered their resignations from the cabinet shortly thereafter.
In a press conference, Netanyahu said that the situation in the cabinet was such that it was “impossible” for him to lead the country.
“I wanted the broadest possible government,” he said of the aftermath of the 2013 elections, asserting that his previous coalition was “one of the best and most stable” in the history of the country. But because his Likud party won relatively few seats, he said, he found himself saddled with an “adversarial” cabinet that was unworkable from the start and was plagued by “incessant attacks from within the government.”
“It’s impossible to do all the things that are important for the security and welfare of the citizens of Israel” with the current government, Netanyahu said.
He then accused both Livni and Lapid of playing “old politics” and said that they had conspired against him. He listed several instances in which Lapid and Livni defied him and “undermined” his rule — on policies relating to Iran, the Palestinians, and building in East Jerusalem.
Outgoing Science Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) called Netanyahu’s speech “timid, cowardly and borderline hysterical,” while outgoing Education Minister Shai Piron said the prime minister’s address was “cowardly and bad.”
“We have no choice but to join the finance minister and justice minister because there’s no point in a government that rules aggressively, a government without a future or hope,” Piron said in tendering his resignation. “I hoped, until last night, that things would change, but there was someone who wanted it differently.”
Livni, in an interview with Channel 10 immediately after Netanyahu’s press conference, accused the prime minister of cowardice in firing her over the phone rather than in person, saying that he “didn’t even dare to look me in the eye to fire me.”
The outgoing justice minister said that she had “contempt” for Netanyahu. “I just hope Israeli citizens won’t fall for this,” she said of his accusations at the press conference. “This was all about [bolstering his position in] Likud.”
Snap polls by the two major television stations indicated that if elections were to be held today, Netanyahu’s Likud party would make gains at the expense of Lapid’s and Livni’s parties. According to a Channel 10 poll, Likud would win 22 seats, Jewish Home 17, Labor 13, Yisrael Beytenu 12, Moshe Kahlon’s as-yet-unnamed party 12, Yesh Atid nine, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism eight, Shas seven, Meretz seven, Hatnua four and the Arab parties nine.
A similar survey by Channel 2 showed Likud with 22, Jewish Home 17, Labor 13, Kahlon and Yisrael Beytenu with 10 apiece, Yesh Atid with nine, Shas with nine, United Torah Judaism with eight, Meretz with seven, Hatnua with four, and the Arab parties with 11.
Both polls would have made pleasant reading for Netanyahu, showing a strengthening of the right and numerous potential coalition options for him.