Israel to hold new election after coalition talks fail

Netanyahu dissolves parliament to deny opposition chance to form government

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was left without a majority coalition failed to reach a compromise on the question of drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the army. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was left without a majority coalition failed to reach a compromise on the question of drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the army. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

 

Israel will hold a new election on September 17th after prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu failed to meet the Wednesday midnight deadline to form a government.

The Knesset voted to disperse itself, less than two months after Israel went to the polls in April.

With the clock ticking down ahead of the Wednesday midnight deadline to present a government, Mr Netanyahu pushed through a Bill to dissolve the Knesset and hold an election in order to prevent president Reuven Rivlin tasking a political rival with forming a coalition.

In a bizarre reversal of traditional roles, opposition Knesset members voted against the dissolution Bill, hoping that the president would seek another candidate to form a government.

The opposition Labor Party, which has six Knesset seats, rejected a last-minute offer on Wednesday night from Mr Netanyahu to enter the government in exchange for the finance ministry and three other portfolios.

After an impressive election victory in April, Mr Netanyahu looked set for an unprecedented fifth term that would see him become Israel’s longest-serving leader, surpassing the country’s founding father David Ben-Gurion.

But the potential coalition partners – representing 65 out of the 120 Knesset members – failed to reach a compromise on the question of drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the army.

Avigdor Lieberman, head of the secular Yisrael Beiteinu party, insisted that a Bill drawn up when he served as defence minister extending the draft to most ultra-Orthodox be passed without any changes. The ultra-Orthodox parties agreed with Mr Netanyahu that the Bill would be watered down.

Neither side was willing to compromise and without Yisrael Beiteinu’s five seats, Mr Netanyahu was left without a majority coalition.

Bribery

Although Mr Netanyahu is considered a shrewd political wheeler and dealer, the fact that he is facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases severely weakened his leverage in the coalition talks.

He demanded the coalition parties agree to an immunity Bill preventing him from facing trial. They agreed but raised excessive demands and refused to compromise.

The ultra-Orthodox proposed forming a coalition with only 60 Knesset members but the leader of the moderate right-wing Kulanu party, finance minister Moshe Kahlon, refused.

Members of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party embarked on a verbal offensive against Mr Lieberman for his refusal to compromise over the ultra-Orthodox draft Bill, accusing him of trying to “bring down the prime minister”. They said that Mr Lieberman had in the past made deals with religious parties and suddenly now, “his hunger for power is going to drag the whole country to elections”.

In response, Mr Lieberman accused the Likud of caving in to ultra-Orthodox pressure and pushing Israel towards a state based on Torah law.

Likud Knesset member Miki Zohar said in presenting the Bill to disperse the Knesset that he was “disappointed by the situation, but we were forced into it”. However, he added, new elections were preferable to allowing the left-centre a chance to form the government, against the wishes of the electorate.