What Will Be the Fate of the 19th Knesset?

There are a few options for bringing elections forward, but enacting a law that would dissolve the parliament appears the most likely.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Netanyahu speaks in the Knesset. April 19, 2014.
Netanyahu speaks in the Knesset. April 19, 2014.Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to publicly declare that he wants to dissolve the Knesset and force early elections, nor has he indicated when he’d prefer that they be held. Officially the Likud is passing the buck on this issue to Finance Minister Yair Lapid. As one party official put it, “If Netanyahu’s five conditions are accepted, there won’t be elections.”

But it’s clear to Netanyahu that Lapid will not accept all of the demands the prime minister made at their failed meeting on Monday, which means that early elections are indeed in the offing.

What won’t happen

The prime minister has a number of options for bringing his current term to an end. He can announce he’s dissolving the Knesset, or submit the government to a no-confidence vote and make sure a majority is in favor. Neither of those methods, however, guarantees new elections: By law, another candidate from a different Knesset faction can try to muster a majority for his or her candidacy for prime minister on the basis of the Knesset’s current configuration. If successful, that person could, in theory, govern until the official date for the next election in November 2017.

Legally dissolving the Knesset

Therefore, the Likud and its leaders are expected to take a third route: dismantling the Knesset by means of a dissolution bill. Such legislation must set a date for new elections that is no less than three months but no more than five months from the date the law passes. In other words, if such a bill is approved during the coming month, elections will be between March and May. Observers believe that Netanyahu is aiming for as short an election campaign as possible. At present four different bills for dissolving the Knesset have been submitted by opposition factions and are meant to be voted on tomorrow, Wednesday. It is believed Netanyahu will want to advance his own bill that sets the deadline he prefers, but it isn’t clear if he’ll try to do that tomorrow, or at a later date. On Monday, a few hours before the premier’s meeting with Lapid broke up, the heads of the coalition factions met to discuss whether to support or oppose the opposition’s Knesset-dissolution bills. “Should we decide today whether to support or oppose the legislation, or wait until Wednesday?” joked coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, not knowing that a decision would need to be made immediately.

What could happen now

All the political parties are expected to be seriously shaken up by the specter of a possible election; all the theoretical discussions about forming a right-wing bloc, or a centrist bloc, or about the Arab parties running jointly because the electoral threshold was raised, will now be put to the test. The Labor Party has already declared Isaac Herzog its leader in advance of a vote. Habayit Hayehudi is expected to confirm Naftali Bennett’s leadership on January 5, and on January 6 the Likud will, presumably, reconfirm Netanyahu as its leader. These three parties will also have to hold early primaries to determine their Knesset candidate lists. Some existing parties will also have to decide if they are going to run jointly in an effort to increase their electoral appeal. Will Netanyahu try to form a joint list, for example, with Habayit Hayehudi? Will Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman try to realize his ambition to run en bloc with the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi? Will Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, whose Hatnuah party might not pass the electoral threshold, try to run jointly with Lapid’s Yesh Atid? Or will she perhaps try to form a joint list with Herzog? Hatnuah members have said in recent days that all options are open.

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