Lawmakers fast-track bill to dissolve Knesset at midnight, trigger new elections

Unprecedented third national vote within 11 months all but inevitable as bill setting next elections for March 2 expected to pass into law on Wednesday night

Knesset members vote in favor of fast-tracking a bill to set elections for March 2, 2020, at the Knesset Arrangements Committee on December 12, 2019. (Knesset)
Knesset members vote in favor of fast-tracking a bill to set elections for March 2, 2020, at the Knesset Arrangements Committee on December 12, 2019. (Knesset)

Lawmakers fast-tracked a bill Wednesday to dissolve the Knesset and set new elections for March 2 amid an unprecedented political deadlock.

Under Israeli election laws, the Knesset has until Wednesday at midnight to vote one of its members as prime minister or call new elections, the third national vote within 11 months.

The Knesset Arrangements Committee on Wednesday morning approved a special expedited legislative process for the dissolution bill, allowing lawmakers to hold the four required plenum votes and committee amendments process in a single day.

Shortly afterward, the bill passed in its preliminary reading in the plenum.

Barring an unexpected announcement of a coalition breakthrough, the bill is expected to pass into law Wednesday night, marking an ignominious end to the short-lived 22nd Knesset and what may be remembered as the most dysfunctional year in Israeli political history.

The bill also changes the date of the next election. Election law requires that the election be held 90 days after the December 11 deadline for forming a government is passed, or March 10. But that day is the Jewish holiday of Purim, so the new bill puts the vote for the 23rd Knesset just over a week earlier, on March 2.

Blue and White MKs Avi Nissenkorn (L) and Gabi Ashkenazi during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 25, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The legislation now goes to the Knesset plenum, where MKs are expected to speak for several hours. Lawmakers will then vote four times to pass the bill, with debates permitted between the votes. The bill is expected to pass its final vote before the midnight deadline.

The bill was drafted and presented in the Knesset Tuesday by Blue and White lawmakers Avi Nissenkorn, Meir Cohen and Tzvi Hauser, together with Likud MKs Miki Zohar and Shlomo Karai.

“These are not the pieces of legislation I had hoped to submit as a public representative, and I still hope that we can pull them tomorrow before midnight and announce the establishment of a broad unity government,” Nissenkorn, who had also cosponsored legislation to dissolve the 21st Knesset in June, just two months into his first term as an MK, said on Tuesday.

Following the filing of the bill, Blue and White chief Benny Gantz said Tuesday there was still time to avoid “costly and unnecessary” elections. He said his party was “making every effort” to form a government without giving up its principles.

He also called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud to announce he would not seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution in the corruption cases against him, a key demand by Blue and White for entering a Netanyahu-led government.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee discussion at the Knesset, December 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“As you promised before the previous election, do not hide behind parliamentary immunity, and go defend your innocence in court,” Gantz said in a video statement. “You have the full right to defend yourself but you must not make the Knesset a safe haven for criminals.”

“Do this so that we can find a solution and form a government,” Gantz added.

Netanyahu responded Tuesday by accusing Gantz of “spin.”

The April 2019 election made history when by the end of May it became the first-ever Israeli election that failed to produce a government. Both Netanyahu and Gantz then failed to form a coalition in the wake of the next vote in September.

Neither Gantz’s Blue and White nor Netanyahu’s Likud has enough allies to form a government without the other or the support of the Yisrael Beytenu party, but the two parties have failed to make progress on unity efforts.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) speaks during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 20, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A Tuesday poll showed Blue and White increasing its lead over Likud, expanding its current one-seat advantage to a four-seat lead — 37 seats to Likud’s 33 in the 120-member Knesset.

Meanwhile, the rightist-Haredi bloc of parties backing Netanyahu is set to fall by three seats, according to the Channel 13 poll, from the current 55 total to 52.

The poll predicted Likud falling even further if the party drops the scandal-laden Netanyahu in favor of his main challenger, MK Gideon Sa’ar.

When asked who they blamed for the expected third election, 41 percent of respondents blamed Netanyahu, followed by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman at 26%, and Gantz at a mere 5%. Twenty-three percent said “everyone is equally responsible.”

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