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Israeli Parliament Dissolves as Netanyahu Fails to Meet Deadline to Form Government

Posted Wednesday, May 29, 2019 - 11:57 am

(AFP) Israel’s parliament voted early Thursday to hold new elections only months after April polls in an unprecedented move provoked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to remain in power despite failing to form a coalition.

Parliament voted 74-45 in favour of dissolving itself and setting elections for September 17.

The vote was prompted by Netanyahu’s failure to reach a coalition deal even though his Likud party along with its right-wing and religious allies won a majority in April 9 elections.

Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman prevented an agreement by refusing to abandon a key demand, with his nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party’s five seats just enough to block Netanyahu’s efforts.

As a result, Netanyahu pushed for new elections to prevent his nightmare scenario of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin selecting another parliament member to try to form a government.

He voted in favour of holding new elections and was expected to speak shortly.

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© Agence France-Presse

(AFP) Israelis faced the increasing likelihood Wednesday of another general election only months after the last polls with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition talks deadlocked hours ahead of a midnight deadline.

Netanyahu’s failure to reach a coalition deal has seen him shift in a matter of weeks from victory celebrations to tense, behind-the-scenes efforts to ensure his long tenure in power continues even if a repeat election is required.

Confronted with the seeming impossibility of forming the coalition he seeks, Netanyahu has turned his efforts in recent days towards pushing for new elections as an alternative if Wednesday’s deadline approaches without an agreement.

Doing so could prevent Netanyahu’s nightmare scenario of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin selecting another parliament member to try to form a government.

Holding elections so close to one another would be unprecedented for Israel, but the stakes could not be much higher for the 69-year-old premier.

Netanyahu is facing possible indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the months ahead and is reportedly seeking legislation in the new parliament that would result in him being granted immunity.

But his efforts to form a new coalition have hit a brick wall despite his Likud party along with its right-wing and religious allies winning a majority of 65 seats out of 120 in the April 9 general election.

Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has prevented an agreement by refusing to abandon a key demand, and his nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party’s five seats are just enough to torment Netanyahu.

Lieberman wants legislation he supports aimed at having ultra-Orthodox Jews perform mandatory military service like other Jewish Israelis to be approved without changes.

The issue is highly sensitive in Israel and the legislation is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, who control 16 seats in parliament and are a key part of Netanyahu’s alliance.

Just three hours before the deadline, Netanyahu issued “a last proposal to the ultra-Orthodox parties and Lieberman”, a Likud spokesman said.

According to the proposal, the law presented in the previous Knesset by Lieberman regulating the drafting of ultra-Orthodox men to the military would be brought to parliament for renewed approval, following which it would be prepared for final readings “in joint agreement”.

In the absence of a new law by the end of July, ultra-Orthodox men would be compelled to join the military like the rest of the Jewish Israeli men as per the supreme court ruling, Netanyahu warned.

“We’re waiting for the positive answers from both sides to form a right-wing government this night and prevent unnecessary elections,” the Likud statement said. 

– ‘Not vindictive’ –

Earlier on Wednesday, Lieberman addressed parliament and described his refusal as a matter of principle.

He has long championed the issue and speaks out regularly against attempts by the ultra-Orthodox to impose religious restrictions on Israeli society at large.

“I thought that I had seen everything in Israeli politics. I have never seen so much schizophrenia, lies and slander,” he said of the deadlocked talks and accusations against him.

Referring to claims from the Likud that his real aim was to oust Netanyahu, he said he had no “hidden agenda”.

Netanyahu has sought to publicly pressure Lieberman to compromise, saying there was no reason to drag the country to costly “unnecessary elections”.

While the prime minister has placed full blame on Lieberman, others have pointed to Netanyahu’s legal troubles as an obstacle.

The main opposition Blue and White, a centrist alliance involving several former military chiefs, says a unity deal with Likud would be possible if Netanyahu would allow someone else from his party to form a government.

There has so far been no sign that Likud members would be willing to turn against Netanyahu.

Parliament has already taken initial steps toward provoking new elections and could vote to dissolve itself later Wednesday.

While new elections are emerging as the most likely path, there are other options.

If a deal is not reached by the deadline, Rivlin could give Netanyahu another two weeks if he concludes the premier is the only person capable of forming a government.

Alternatively, Rivlin could ask another member of parliament to take on the task.

Netanyahu could also seek to form a minority government.

Rivlin issued a video message Wednesday laying out his options under the law, while making it clear he did not want the country to hold another election.D

“I, for my part, will do anything I can to prevent Israel from going to another election campaign,” he said.

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© Agence France-Presse

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