Israel set for fresh elections after Benjamin Netanyahu fails to form coalition

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to bridge differences between potential coalition partners over a law to draft yeshiva students into the IDF


In a move without precedent in Israeli politics, Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to concede, seven weeks after proclaiming his fifth election victory, that he had failed to form a government.

Minutes before a midnight deadline on Wednesday for him to strike a deal for a new coalition, the prime minister moved to dissolve the Knesset and called another election for September 17.

Ordinarily, it was not yet time for an election: President Reuven Rivlin could have restarted consultations with Israel’s political parties and conferred the task of forming a coalition on another member of the Knesset.

But Mr Netanyahu took advantage of a clause in Israeli electoral law, never used before, which can call a halt to the government-formation process by dissolving the Knesset.

It is the first time an Israeli election has not resulted in a government and means the country will hold two general elections in 2019.

As the Knesset members walked in to the chamber to vote themselves out of their own jobs, former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “I’m sad to say that the state of Israel is going to elections because of the Likud’s refusal to pass the law Yisrael Beitenu proposed in three readings.”

He was referring to the law setting quotas to draft of yeshiva students into the IDF, a measure strenuously opposed by the Charedi parties and the reason the prime minister could not strike a coalition deal.

Mr Lieberman accused Likud of “surrendering to the Charedim. We are natural partners in a right-wing election. We will not be members of a Halachah (religious law) government.”

Mr Netanyahu had been confident that he could bridge the differences between Mr Lieberman and his Charedi allies, and only went in to crisis mode last weekend. He acknowledged belatedly that without Yisrael Beitenu’s five seats, he would not have a majority and that Mr Lieberman was not about to back down. And even when the Charedi parties accepted various compromises which would have watered down the original yeshiva students law somewhat, Mr Lieberman stuck to his guns, demanding that “not one comma” be changed.

When he shocked the Israeli political establishment by deciding to call a dissolution vote, Mr Netanyahu said in a terse statement that “the people voted for a right-wing government led by me” and blamed Mr Lieberman for forcing a second election on Israel for “semantic, cosmetic reasons”.

His proxies were less reserved, accusing him of acting out of personal motives.

For some newly-elected Knesset members, this was the first vote they ever participated in; if they fail to win back their seats in September, it will have been their only vote.

The next election will focus on Mr Netanyahu and his actions, both political and allegedly criminal. It will be for Israeli voters to decide whether they are being used to prolong one man’s political career and help him keep out of prison. The contest will reveal whether the right-wing and religious majority will stand by Mr Netanyahu in the belief that he truly is the victim of what he calls a “witch-hunt”.

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