Knesset Slated to Dissolve Itself Monday, Set Election for March 17

Likud insiders say that the party leadership race is going to be uglier and more difficult than Netanyahu expected.

Emil Salman

Barring any last minute surprises, the Knesset is expected to vote to dissolve itself on Monday evening and officially set March 17 as the date for the next general election.

The Knesset House Committee on Monday morning cleared a bill to dissolve parliament for second, third readings. The bill, which also calls for early elections, will be brought for a Knesset vote Monday afternoon, was not even on the agenda as of last night.

At 4 P.M. on Monday the plenum will convene and first debate eight no-confidence motions submitted by the opposition. After those, the third amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law is meant to have its second and third readings, in an effort to get it passed before the Knesset dissolves and the current law’s validity expires at the end of the month. The bill to disolve the Knesset will come up afterwards.

The ultra-Orthodox parties, along with Yisrael Beiteinu, made it clear on Sunday that they would not lend a hand to any last-minute attempt by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form an alternative coalition based on the current Knesset. Over the past few weeks Netanyahu had apparently explored a number of such alternatives as a means to avoid early elections, but Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman refused to sit in the same government as the Haredim, while MKs from Yesh Atid and Hatnuah refused offers to break off from their parties and form a new coalition.

Yisrael Beiteinu issued an unequivocal statement on Sunday calling for new elections. “Although we believed that this is not the right time from the country’s point of view to go to elections, the option of forming a different government now is even worse. If the die is cast and we are going to elections, we must do it in a worthy fashion, without shticks or tricks or stinking maneuvers.”

Likud Central Committee chairman MK Danny Danon decided to delay by a day the central committee meeting that had been scheduled for Monday evening at the same time as the Knesset dissolution bill was to be debated. At that meeting, Netanyahu is expected to ask the central committee to approve the makeup of the Knesset list as follows: the first 15 places would be allocated to members of the national list; three places would be reserved for regional representatives, and Netanyahu would be given two places, one each in slots 1-10 and 11-20, for him to assign personally.

It isn’t clear whether Netanyahu will be able to pass two other initiatives: to move forward the party leadership election, currently scheduled for January 6, to the end of this month, in a presumed effort to make it more difficult for Gideon Sa’ar, the former interior minister, to mount a challenge. Sa’ar is expected to announce whether he plans to run by the end of this week.

Netanyahu also wants to hold the primary election for the Knesset list on the same day as the leadership vote, but Likud activists note that this would pose legal problems.

Likud insiders say that the party leadership race is going to be uglier and more difficult than Netanyahu expected. Even if Sa’ar doesn’t run, Netanyahu will have to face challenges from Danon and Moshe Feiglin. According to a recent internal Likud poll conducted by the Maagar Mochot institute, if elections were held now and the Likud list were headed by Feiglin it would get 18 seats, and with Danon at the helm, 17 seats. Recent polls conducted for Channels 2 and 10 showed that with Netanyahu leading, the party would get 22 seats.

More than what the polls say about the appeal of Feiglin, who represents the party’s hawkish wing, it demonstrates that Netanyahu is in a relatively weak position for a sitting prime minister, and reflects the understanding among Likud field activists that Netanyahu may not be the only alternative.

“The Likudniks now understand that any donkey could bring the mandates that Bibi [Netanyahu] brings to the party,” said one Likud activist of the poll results. Another said, “Based on these results, Netanyahu’s ceiling is liable to turn into Feiglin’s floor. From there he can add more mandates.”

President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday expressed concern that people have gotten so fed up with politics that they may decide not to vote. He called on the public to make sure to vote in the next election.

“I have this feeling that the public may avoid voting in the elections because it doesn’t believe [in the process], and the public’s lack of belief in elections is liable to cause disruptions to our democratic system,” Rivlin told the Globes Business Conference.

“Maybe there will be some statement here that democracy is not useful for us,” Rivlin said. “The political leaders must also understand that going back to central political blocs is the most important thing for governance and for the ability to make decisions that often require tough choices on all the issues that we are dealing with.”