Knesset votes for new elections on September 17 after PM fails to form coalition
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Knesset votes for new elections on September 17 after PM fails to form coalition

In a shocking turn of events, Netanyahu unable to secure a majority coalition in parliament; Likud-drafted motion to dissolve Knesset passes 74-45 in late-night vote

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits before a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset on May 29, 2019, at the Knesset in Jerusalem. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits before a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset on May 29, 2019, at the Knesset in Jerusalem. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Israel’s parliament on Wednesday voted to dissolve a mere month after it was sworn in, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to meet the midnight deadline to form a new government, triggering an unprecedented second national election this year.

After a raucous 12-hour debate, lawmakers voted 74 to 45 in favor of the Likud-drafted bill to dissolve the 21st Knesset and hold new elections on September 17.

The Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, United Torah Judaism, Shas and Union of Right-Wing Parties were joined by the two Arab-Israeli parties, Ra’am-Balad and Hadash-Ta’al in supporting the motion. Only Kulanu MK Roy Folkman was absent from the late-night votes. He is expected to quit politics.

Netanyahu had appeared to secure a fourth consecutive term after elections on April 9, thanks to a strong showing by his Likud party and his other nationalist and religious allies.

Knesset members seen during a discussion on a bill to dissolve parliament, at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

But in a shocking turn of events for the longtime leader, Netanyahu failed to muster a majority coalition in the 120-seat Knesset by the Wednesday midnight deadline, due to an impasse between the secular and ultra-Orthodox members of his would-be coalition over a contentious draft law.

The standoff between the ultra-Orthodox parties and Avigdor Liberman, an ally-turned-rival who leads the secular Yisrael Beytenu party, sunk Netanyahu’s efforts to form a government in the allotted 42 days. Liberman insisted that the draft law pass unchanged; the ultra-Orthodox parties rejected this, and Netanyahu blamed Liberman for the unbreakable deadlock.

Hours before the midnight deadline, both the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beytenu turned down an offer by Netanyahu that would have advanced the Defense Ministry version of a bill regulating the draft of the ultra-Orthodox into the military, but would not guarantee it would pass into law. Immediately before the vote, Shas and part of UTJ accepted the offer; Liberman again rejected it.

Liberman has repeatedly said that he backs Netanyahu for prime minister, but refused to join his government unless he was guaranteed that an unaltered version of the draft bill would be passed. The ultra-Orthodox parties wanted to soften its terms.

Netanyahu needed both Yisrael Beytenu and the two ultra-Orthodox parties to muster a parliamentary majority.

Confronted with the seeming impossibility of forming the coalition he sought, Netanyahu in recent days turned his efforts to opposition parties in an effort to lure enough MKs to push him over the 60-seat mark.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman sits at a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Leading up to the vote, Netanyahu offered a slew of incentives to lawmakers willing to defect, including top ministries, future diplomatic postings and even amendments to the so-called Jewish state law.

According to a Likud statement, Netanyahu proposed that as soon as his government is formed, the Knesset would vote on the Liberman-backed draft of the legislation in its first reading. After the bill was approved, it would proceed to the necessary second and third plenum votes by “mutual consent,” the Likud party said in a statement, without elaborating.

Netanyahu’s party put pressure on the ultra-Orthodox to back the proposal, noting that the government must advance an amended bill, under a Supreme Court order, by July or current arrangements will expire and thousands of ultra-Orthodox men are liable to be drafted into the army.

“This means that the ultra-Orthodox will have to choose between Liberman’s law and a return to the original law, which means full mobilization for the ultra-Orthodox as for all parts of the public,” the Likud statement warned.

United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman swiftly rejected the offer, saying that his party would not accept any agreement based on Liberman’s demand.

The Shas party, headed by Aryeh Deri, received approval from its councils of rabbis to back the compromise. The Walla news site said Degel HaTorah, a faction within United Torah Judaism that holds four of the party’s eight seats, also agreed to the offer.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman speaks at the Knesset, May 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“We have compromised,” Litzman said. “If Liberman won’t accept our offer we will have to go to elections, but we cannot budge further.”

A UTJ source later told the TV network that in protest of Netanyahu’s offer, the party could support another Likud candidate for prime minister.

But Liberman turned down Netanyahu’s final proposal, saying that his position on the conscription law was “well-known and is still valid.”

Immediately before the announcement of its “final offer,” Likud said it had finalized coalition deals with 60 MKs, in what was seen as a possible sign the party was considering a non-majority government.

But that claim quickly unraveled after would-be coalition partner Moshe Kahlon said his Kulanu party had not signed any deal, and UTJ pushed back against Netanyahu.

The Knesset then dissolved itself in a vote at midnight designed by Netanyahu to prevent President Reuven Rivlin from tasking another lawmaker with forming a coalition.

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