Opposition parties Blue and White, Labor, and Meretz announced on Monday that they would not back a preliminary motion to dissolve the Knesset, which is being sought by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz explained that his party should be given the chance to form a coalition if Netanyahu failed to do so, rather than subjecting the country to another election.
The bill to dissolve parliament was submitted by the Likud party on Monday for the first of three votes to trigger new elections.
The move was widely seen as a pressure tactic to persuade prospective coalition partners to soften their demands, as well as a bid to prevent President Reuven Rivlin from tasking another lawmaker to form a government should Netanyahu fail to do so by a Wednesday deadline.
Parties not involved in coalition talks convened a meeting to coordinate their positions ahead of the initial Knesset vote on holding new elections.
It was not clear if the bill to dissolve parliament has the backing of a majority of MKs, though Likud MK Miki Zohar, the sponsor of the bill, told Channel 12 on Monday afternoon that he had sufficient support to pass it.
Blue and White, which has vowed to not join a government led by Netanyahu, is the second-largest party in the Knesset. On Monday, its leader Gantz said that if Netanyahu can’t form a government, he should be given a chance.
“My friends in Blue and White and I maintain that the responsibility for forming a government should be given over to the only existing alternative — the party that I lead,” Gantz said at the opening of a Blue and White faction meeting at the Knesset.
The centrist party has no clear path to forming a government, as it has ruled out an alliance with Arab lawmakers, and ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties have said they won’t join a Blue and White government.
Netanyahu has yet to ink a deal with any of his prospective partners, and progress has stalled amid an impasse between the secular Yisrael Beytenu party and ultra-Orthodox parties on the question of a bill regulating the military draft among the ultra-Orthodox.
Meretz on Monday said it would vote against the bill in its preliminary vote, but left open the possibility of revising its position before the second and third readings.
In his remarks at the faction meeting, Gantz also blasted Netanyahu’s reported efforts to secure immunity from prosecution in the corruption cases against him, along with a a far-reaching Supreme Court override bill, in the coalition agreements. Legal experts have warned that the prime minister’s efforts to shield himself from prosecution in the three cases could trigger a serious constitutional crisis.
“In the last few days Israel’s citizens have been witness to the loss of statehood and the rise of a new and singular principle — Netanyahu above all else,” Gantz said. “The national interest is also pushed aside by his personal interests. Netanyahu’s desire for a legal fortress that will protect him from trial led him to obsess over legislating the override clause and dissolving the Knesset — anything in order to prevent the threat of justice.”
Vowing to maintain his opposition to immunity for Netanyahu and the override bill, Gantz said “tyranny will not rise up here. Netanyahu is leading Israel to a serious crisis of confidence.”
Blue and White’s number two, MK Yair Lapid, described Likud lawmakers as “Netanyahu’s bunch of rabbits who are prepared to take apart the Knesset, which has only just been elected, because they are afraid of him.”
“Let us set up the government,” Lapid said. “The public wants a unity government. If someone else leads Likud other than Netanyahu, it will be possible.”
Labor leader MK Avi Gabbay said his party will also oppose dissolving the Knesset.
Elections, Gabbay said, according to Ynet, “only serve Netanyahu and not the country. We will not forgive the person who is trying to break apart Israeli democracy.”
Earlier, Gabbay told party members at the Knesset that over the past day Netanyahu, via an intermediary, had asked him to join the coalition to prevent elections, Ynet reported. Gabbay reportedly said that his condition for such a move is that Netanyahu give up immunity and the override bill. Likud did not respond to the report.
MK Avigdor Liberman, who leads Yisrael Beytenu, said his party will vote in favor of dissolving parliament and calling new elections. Liberman has repeatedly said he backs Netanyahu for prime minister, but will only join the government if there is a commitment to pass, unaltered, a bill regulating the draft of ultra-Orthodox men into the army. The bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, which want to soften its terms. Netanyahu needs Yisrael Beytenu and both the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties to form a majority government.
Likud won 35 seats in the April 9 election. The two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, each won eight seats. Moshe Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu won four. And the hawkish Union of Right-Wing Parties won five. Together, these parties hold 60 seats in the 120-member Knesset, and Netanyahu also needs the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, with its five seats, for a majority.
Netanyahu faces a Wednesday night deadline to form a coalition. But should he fail to build a coalition by then or dissolve the Knesset, the prime minister may be able to buy himself another 14 more days, exercising a never-before-used legal provision, analysts say.
As the deadline expires — and should the Knesset remain intact — Rivlin would be able to task another lawmaker with forming the government. But since the prevailing assessment is that nobody else would be able to secure the 61-seat majority needed, that scenario too would likely lead to fresh Knesset elections, months after the April 9 vote.