Israel faces new elections within weeks as Netanyahu fails to secure a coalition after winning vote held in April
Israel will hold a second election in five months after Benjamin Netanyahu failed to cobble together a coalition.
The country‘s parliament voted to dissolve itself just weeks after the April 9 election, setting a new poll date for September 17.
Netanyahu and his right-wing allies had appeared to win the first election, but coalition talks have foundered in a row over the military conscription of ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Far-right former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has refused to back down and his party‘s five seats are enough to deny Netanyahu a majority.
Lieberman has insisted on the passing of a new law which would end the exemption. for ultra-Orthodox Jews.
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.
But without the five seats of Lieberman‘s Yisrael Beiteinu party, Netanyahu – who is also under pressure over looming criminal charges – cannot muster a majority.
Last night the Israeli parliament, the Knesset voted 74-45 in favour of dissolving itself and setting elections for September 17 as a midnight deadline passed.
Netanyahu voted in favour of new elections to prevent his nightmare scenario of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin selecting another parliament member to try to form a government.
The prime minister has said Lieberman would be fully responsible for dragging the country to an ‘expensive, wasteful‘ election if an agreement could not be made.
After the vote, opposition leader Benny Gantz angrily accused Netanyahu of choosing self-preservation over allowing the country‘s political process to run its course.
Gantz said that instead of following procedure, Netanyahu opted for ‘three crazy months‘ of a new campaign and millions of wasted dollars over new elections because he is ‘legally incapacitated‘ by looming indictments.
‘There is no other reason,‘ Gantz said.
Netanyahu appeared to have a clear path to a majority coalition, and fifth term in office overall, after the April 9 elections.
His Likud party secured 35 seats, tying it for the largest party in the highly fractured 120-seat parliament.
Counting his traditional allies, he appeared to control a solid 65-55 majority.
Netanyahu‘s ruling Likud has traditionally had an alliance with ultra-Orthodox and nationalist parties.
But Lieberman, a former top Netanyahu aide, is a wild card. Though staunchly nationalist, he also champions a secular agenda aimed toward his political base of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Likud insists Lieberman is motivated by his personal spite for Netanyahu and has launched a vicious campaign against him in recent days.
But Lieberman says he is driven by ideology and will not be a hand to religious coercion.
The former defence minister has described his refusal as a matter of principle, and in a late-night Facebook post on the eve of Wednesday‘s deadline reiterated his stance.
‘I‘m not vindictive. I´m not on a vendetta or seeking to bring down the prime minister,‘ he said.
‘We have no intention to give up our principles and the commitments we gave our voters.‘
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Ultra-Orthodox parties consider conscription a taboo, fearing that military service will lead to immersion in secularism.
But years of exemptions have generated widespread resentment among the rest of Jewish Israelis.
A stalemate on the issue was one of the factors that shortened the term of the previous coalition government, which Lieberman resigned from months before elections were called because he disagreed with its policy toward the Gaza Strip.
Dissolving parliament would be a shocking turn of events for Netanyahu, who has led the country for the past decade and appeared to capture a fourth consecutive term in April.
While the prime minister has placed full blame of the looming election on Lieberman, others have pointed to Netanyahu‘s legal troubles as an obstacle.
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.
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.
Blue and White‘s leaders say they cannot join a government led by Netanyahu due to the corruption allegations he faces, and the premier is seen as wanting partners willing to support legislation that could result in his immunity.
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.
Political commentators said that as the prospects dimmed for a compromise with Lieberman, Netanyahu would focus his efforts on enlisting the 61 votes needed in parliament to approve a new election.
Chemi Shalev, writing in the left-wing Haaretz daily, said a last-minute agreement was still possible and Netanyahu would still be the favourite to win a new poll.
But he said Netanyahu‘s critics now find themselves fantasizing about a world without him.
‘It‘s not an easy task, given his decade in power and the four more years he supposedly had coming,‘ Shalev wrote.
‘Young Israelis can‘t even begin to imagine an Israel without him: Netanyahu as prime minister is all they‘ve ever known.‘
A new election could also complicate U.S. efforts to press ahead with President Donald Trump‘s peace plan in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Even before it has been announced Palestinians have rejected it as a blow to their aspirations for statehood.
The White House team behind the proposal, including Trump‘s son-in-law Jared Kushner, is in the Middle East to drum up support for an economic ‘workshop‘ in Bahrain next month to encourage investment in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
The group is due in Israel on Thursday.