Committee sets February 25 as earliest date for possible 3rd election

Israel will go to unprecedented third vote in less than a year unless political parties manage to break deadlock by December 11

An Israeli votes in Haifa, during the Knesset elections on April 9, 2019. (Meir Vaknin/ Flash90)
An Israeli votes in Haifa, during the Knesset elections on April 9, 2019. (Meir Vaknin/ Flash90)

The Central Elections Committee has identified February 25, 2020 as the earliest possible date that fresh elections, an unprecedented third vote in less than a year, can be held if the current political deadlock remains unbroken.

Two rounds of elections, in April and September, failed to produce an elected government — a first in Israeli political history. The Knesset now has a December 11 deadline for at least 61 lawmakers to agree on an MK to form a government, or parliament will be dissolved and third elections set.

Following a request for clarification from MK Avi Nissenkorn from Blue and White, who wanted to find out if it would be possible to bring the vote forward, committee head Orly Adas issued a statement on Monday identifying the date.

“In the meeting we presented the complicated work process the committee has to comply with under election law and the difficulties inherent in them,” she said. “It appears that the earliest date that it would be possible to hold a vote in accordance with the law would be February 25, 2020.”

Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Blue and White chair Benny Gantz has so far been able to form a government, even though both have publicly said they want to avoid a third vote.

Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman on Monday appeared to backtrack on his previous suggestion that he could endorse both of them as candidates to form a government as part of an eleventh-hour bid to force a unity government.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at a faction meeting in the Knesset on December 2, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Liberman said the offer only stood if there was a genuine will to form a government merging Likud and Blue and White, and threatened that otherwise he wouldn’t back either politician.

The Knesset legal adviser had previously said lawmakers could back more than one prime ministerial candidate, but on Sunday clarified that MKs would be asked to whittle down their choice to one candidate in the event of more than one lawmaker receiving 61 signatures for the post.

Speaking at his party faction meeting in the Knesset, Liberman said that he was still dedicated to forming a national unity government and that his pledge to tell President Reuven Rivlin that he supports both Netanyahu and Gantz was “another tool to advance that same goal.”

Liberman — who refused to join a Netanyahu government in May over disagreements with ultra-Orthodox parties on the military draft law of ultra-Orthodox students — has been pushing for a secularist unity government of Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beytenu.

However, last week, Liberman said that had Netanyahu been willing to compromise on religion and state issues, he would have joined a right-wing government alongside the religious parties. On Sunday, he issued a list of what he said were his “minimum” demands from religious parties in order to serve with them in a coalition.

Netanyahu has accused Liberman of not really wanting a unity government, secretly working for a minority government backed by the predominantly Arab Joint List and seeking to serve himself as prime minister. Those claims have been strongly rejected by Yisrael Beytenu.

Speaking at his own Blue and White faction meeting, Gantz reiterated that he was prepared to enter a unity government, but only if he serves as prime minister first. The centrist alliance has ruled out joining a government led by Netanyahu, who faces criminal charges.

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