Bill to disperse Knesset, set new elections for March 2, filed in Knesset

Legislation to set third national vote in under a year must pass four readings in parliament by midnight Wednesday

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Illustrative: The plenum hall of the Israeli parliament on the opening of the 22nd Knesset in Jerusalem, on October 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative: The plenum hall of the Israeli parliament on the opening of the 22nd Knesset in Jerusalem, on October 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A bill for new elections was presented in the Knesset Tuesday by lawmakers from both major parties, Likud and Blue and White, signaling an ignominious end to the short-lived 22nd Knesset.

The legislation sets the date of the next general election at March 2, 2020, marking an unprecedented third election within 11 months, after the last two votes on April 9 and September 17.

The bill was drafted by Blue and White lawmakers Avi Nissenkorn, Meir Cohen and Tzvi Hauser, together with Likud’s 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,” said Nissenkorn, who had also co-sponsored legislation to dissolve the 21st Knesset in his first term as an MK.

Lawmakers will vote Wednesday on four readings of the bill. The debates are expected to begin in the afternoon, with the final votes due by midnight.

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

Following the filing of the bill, Blue and White chief Benny Gantz said 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 to announce he would not seek parliamentary immunity.

“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 protect 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.

In response, Netanyahu said Gantz was engaging in “spin.”

“After 80 the time has come that one day, for the good of the citizens of the State of Israel, we’ll sit and seriously discuss the formation of a broad unity government. It is still not too late,” Netanyahu tweeted.

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. After both Netanyahu and BGantz failed to form a coalition in the wake of the September vote, the Knesset now has a Wednesday deadline for a majority of lawmakers to agree on an MK to form a government or parliament will be dissolved and a new election called.

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

On Monday, Gantz called on Netanyahu to forgo his expected bid to seek immunity from prosecution and enter a unity government instead.

Netanyahu, who has been charged in a trio of corruption cases, has not yet announced whether he will seek immunity from prosecution, but is widely expected to do so.

Likud officials shot down Gantz’s offer, saying seeking immunity was “an explicit right given by the legislature,” Channel 12 news reported.

Meanwhile, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid said that he would give up on a rotation agreement for the premiership with Gantz, as he sought to bolster the party’s chances in the increasingly likely upcoming election.

In a statement released by his office, Netanyahu accused Blue and White’s leaders of “transparent tricks” and “empty spin.”

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