Israel’s Knesset parliament has voted to dissolve in a preliminary vote on Wednesday, bringing the country close to an unprecedented fourth election in under two years.
Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s main coalition partner, the centrist Blue and White, voted together with most opposition parties in the 61-54 vote.
The Bill must now go to committee and pass another three readings but without a dramatic change in position from Blue and White, led by former top general Benny Gantz, Israel faces the prospect of yet another election. A March election will be triggered automatically if a budget is not approved by December 23rd.
Mr Netanyahu responded to the vote by calling for unity to combat the coronavirus pandemic and tackle Israel’s difficult security challenges. “In dramatic days like these, we don’t need to go to elections,” he said.
He condemned Mr Gantz for forming a “government within the government” undermining the coalition “from day one”.
The current coalition was formed in May following inconclusive elections in March. According to the coalition agreement, Mr Gantz was set to replace Mr Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021. However, most commentators believe Mr Netanyahu had no intention of fulfilling the rotation agreement.
This explains his reluctance to pass the budget, granting him an escape clause to call early elections at his convenience.
On Tuesday, Mr Gantz termed Mr Netanyahu a “serial violator of agreements”, warning that the failure to push through a budget in the coming weeks would mean new elections.
“It’s not me that Netanyahu has deceived, but you, all of Israel’s citizens, that he’s misled,” Mr Gantz said, “He’s on a path of personal survival and that’s the only thing that governs his decisions.”
Mr Netanyahu’s trial is due to begin in February when he will face charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies the corruption allegations, alleging a left-wing witch-hunt to topple him from power.
According to opposition legislators, evading justice remains Mr Netanyahu’s top priority and therefore he seeks a new coalition that will allow him to request parliamentary immunity or appoint an attorney general who will agree to postpone the trial.
At the same time, they believe, he wants to avoid the unpopular move of publicly calling for new elections in the middle of the pandemic and therefore delayed the budget as a way to trigger a new election.
Opinion polls predict a new election will see a comfortable majority for the right, with Mr Netanyahu’s Likud and the right-wing Yamina, led by former defence minister Naftali Bennett ,emerging as the two biggest parties.
The centre and left-wing parties remain divided and without a charismatic leader to challenge Mr Netanyahu’s block of right and religious parties.