Lawmakers were set to vote on dissolving the 19th Knesset on Wednesday and to discuss a date for the upcoming general elections — 22 months after the last polls — following the collapse of the coalition.
On Wednesday morning Knesset faction leaders were gearing up to meet with Speaker Yuli Edelstein to discuss possible dates for the elections, widely expected to take place in March 2015.
Later in the day a motion to disperse the current Knesset will be brought before the plenum for a preliminary reading, where it will likely pass easily with the support of remaining coalition partners Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Jewish Home. The move will then be finalized on Monday with second and third readings.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday launched a fierce assault on his coalition partners ministers Yair Lapid and Tzipi 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 did not receive “enough seats,” 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.
Lapid had undermined him on Iran by hailing “a new tune” when President Hassan Rouhani came to power, and criticizing him for ordering Israel’s diplomats to boycott Rouhani’s UN General Assembly appearance. And Livni had defied him by meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas when government policy was to refrain from doing so. “In May of this year she met with Abu Mazen, completely against the cabinet’s decision not to meet during that time and contrary to my specific instruction not to hold the meeting,” he said of Livni, bitterly citing her critique of his ban on meeting the PA leader as “stupid.” Both ministers opposed some of his Jerusalem building plans, he lamented.
“Something Lapid and Livni have in common in their leadership is grandiloquent statements about new politics. But in effect they are part of the same old politics,” he said. “In recent weeks, they attempted to entice the ultra-Orthodox parties into deposing the prime minister while sitting in government.
“The finance minister who failed in managing the economy joined the justice minister in the dark in order to topple the government,” Netanyahu charged. “In one word, we call that a putsch. It’s impossible to run a government and a state this way, and therefore I advised the cabinet secretary to fire Livni and Lapid.
“I will not tolerate opposition from within the cabinet,” he added, officially announcing that he would dissolve the current Knesset and send the country’s citizens back to the polls for the second time in two years. “The people of Israel deserve a better, more stable, more harmonious government,” he said.
The prime minister denied accusations by Lapid and Livni to the effect that he had already struck a “deal” with the ultra-Orthodox parties that would see them back his candidacy for prime minister after the next elections.
Outgoing Science Minister Yaakov Peri 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] the Likud.”
Earlier, she told Channel 2 Netanyahu had “capitulated” to the right-wing extremists, and that the elections would be a “choice between Zionism and extremism.”
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.
In an earlier response to Lapid’s dismissal, the finance minister’s Yesh Atid party said that Netanyahu’s “haphazard move of firing the ministers is an act of cowardice and loss of control.”
“Prime Minister Netanyahu has failed in his management of the country and in dealing with the needs of the Israeli public,” the party said in a statement. “We are sad to see that the prime minister has chosen to act without consideration for the national interest and to drag Israel to unnecessary elections that will harm the economy and Israeli society, all for narrow political interests and a surrender to the ultra-Orthodox parties, the powerful central committee of the Likud and outside lobby groups.”
Opposition party leaders also took the opportunity to knock Netanyahu. Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog — in a Facebook post Tuesday evening — called the impending elections “fateful.”
“Six bad years of Netanyahu are over,” Herzog said. “Israelis deserve a different leadership: better, more united, more socially conscious, and more responsible. The Zionist bloc is expected to join hands under the leadership of the Labor Party and to restore hope.” He said the elections would pit Likud against Labor.
Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-on attacked Livni, Piron and Herzog for bashing Netanyahu, while “in the same breath refusing to commit not to sit in his government.
“No one here is innocent — they’re playing the same game of crawling into a coalition that we saw in the last elections and brought about the current sinister government,” she wrote in a statement posted to Facebook. Gal-on vowed that her left-wing party wouldn’t join a Netanyahu government.
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