Israel to hold new elections as Netanyahu fails to form a government
JERUSALEM — In an unprecedented move, Israel will head to elections for a second time in less than six months after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government before a midnight deadline.
Rather than give someone else the chance to do so, he forwarded legislation to dissolve the parliament and trigger a new election in the fall.
During a dramatic day in Israeli politics, Netanyahu failed to bring Avigdor Liberman, his former defense minister, into a coalition to form a majority government, with the two at loggerheads over legislation to draft ultra-Orthodox Israelis into the military. Netanyahu’s party won the largest proportion of the vote in elections in April but needed to form a majority in the 120-seat Knesset to govern.
— Nine News Australia (@9NewsAUS) May 29, 2019
By forwarding a bill to dissolve the Knesset, Netanyahu’s Likud party prevented President Reuven Rivlin from offering Netanyahu’s rivals an opportunity to form a government, as traditionally done in similar circumstances. The legislation passed in a vote of 74-45 early Thursday, just after the deadline passed.
Netanyahu was stone-faced as he cast his vote in favor of disbanding parliament. Speaking to the parliament in the early hours of Thursday morning, he squarely blamed Liberman.
“It’s completely unbelievable,” the prime minister said. “You waste billions and you paralyze the state for almost a year. We have very important things to do.”
He vowed to win new elections.
— Nine News Australia (@9NewsAUS) May 29, 2019
Liberman, who is staunchly secular, is insisting on the passage — without amendment — of a bill that sets quotas for drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the military. Ultra-Orthodox parties, which hold 16 seats in Netanyahu’s proposed coalition, insist that the bill’s requirements be eased.
A Supreme Court ruling means the government must pass legislation to change the current system of generous exemptions. The two also have a fractious history. Liberman quit his post as defense minister last year to protest Netanyahu’s policies in the Gaza Strip.
Liberman is likely to stick to his demands, said Maoz Rosenthal, a senior lecturer at the Lauder School of Government at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said before the Knesset vote.
“This plays perfectly with his base, and this kind of behavior has benefited him in the past,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, opposition lawmakers began a filibuster as soon as debate commenced in the Knesset to prevent elections, but they said they stopped after it became clear that former military Chief of Staff Benny Gantz of the opposition Blue and White party, was also making little headway in forming an alternative coalition.
In a statement, Rivlin had said he would “do everything in my power to prevent the State of Israel from going to another election campaign.”
The new round of elections will cost Israel millions of dollars, and it will pose another impediment for a long-awaited White House peace plan. President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, is scheduled to arrive in Israel this week for talks ahead of a Bahrain summit on the economic aspect of the plan.
Not the best timing…https://t.co/wKEeH7ExRi
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) May 29, 2019
“Going to elections only because (Netanyahu) failed in forming a government is democratic theft,” the Blue and White party’s Yair Lapid tweeted Wednesday, calling on Netanyahu to allow Gantz a turn at forming a coalition in line with precedent. “Anything else is an unprecedented act of political and democratic deception.”
If the Knesset had not dissolved itself, the president would have had the opportunity to pick someone else to form a government.
Under the Israeli parliamentary system, the prime minister is not necessarily the leader of the largest bloc in the Knesset but the person able to form a government.
In 2009, when Tzipi Livni failed to form a government even though her Kadima party won the most seats in elections, it opened the way for Netanyahu to do so and become prime minister.
“This is Liberman’s last stand,” said Israeli political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin. “He’s got his five seats, but he’s not in a position to negotiate for much. Maybe he’s playing for leverage, or it’s possible he’s decided this is the sword he’s going to fall on.”
However, she said, it is unlikely that Liberman’s party will want to be seen as responsible for dragging Israel into expensive new elections. The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday ran a front-page story on how a new election would cost Israeli taxpayers more than $130 million. And since election day is a holiday in Israel, the economy would lose a further $500 million.
Speaking to Israeli television on Wednesday, Blue and White parliamentarian Asaf Zamir said he believed the two sides would reach a compromise. “They will find a path, they will have a new government, which will not be a good government for Israel,” he said. “It will be a government that is a safe haven for Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Netanyahu’s Likud party is also forwarding legislation that would give Knesset members, including the prime minister, immunity from prosecution, while attempting to roll back the powers of the Supreme Court to overturn Knesset legislation that it deems unconstitutional.
Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing for charges in three criminal cases against him is expected in October. He denies the allegations of corruption, bribery and breach of trust. His wife Sara Netanyahu agreed to a plea deal on Wednesday in a separate case on the misuse of public funds, Israel’s public broadcaster reported. She agreed to pay a fine of 55,000 shekels ($15,200) it said.