Gantz Breaks With Netanyahu, Votes With Opposition to Dissolve Parliament

Preliminary vote inches Israel toward fourth election in two years, but Netanyahu-Gantz compromise could prevent it

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Gantz (left) and Netanyahu at the Knesset, December 2, 2020
Gantz (left) and Netanyahu at the Knesset, December 2, 2020Credit: Dani Shem Tov / Knesset

The Knesset voted to dissolve in a preliminary vote Wednesday, bringing the country closer to a fourth election in less than two years.

Sixty-one lawmakers voted in favor, and 54 voted against. The proposal will now go to the Legislative Committee for discussion.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear on Tuesday that his Likud party will vote against the bill, which was put forth by the opposition. Benny Gantz, hoping to spur Netanyahu to reach a compromise on the 2021 state budget, voted in favor.

Yesh Atid, which proposed the bill, in addition to Labor and Meretz, all voted in favor of an early election.

Chairman of the Joint List Ayman Odeh said his party will be the deciding factor that determines whether Israel will head to another election. Three of the four factions making up the Joint List alliance of Arab parties voted in favor of dissolution. The United Arab List faction was not present for the vote. 

In recent weeks, UAL's leader Mansour Abbas has stirred controversy in the Joint List over statements that he will not rule out a partnership with Netanyahu if the latter commits to the pressing needs of Arab communities in Israel. He was not present for the vote.

"We have tried to persuade the other parties on the Joint List to negotiate and make demands that will advance our community in return for this vote," said Abbas later on Wednesday, "but our colleagues insisted on dissolving the Knesset without negotiations."

The Likud party attacked Kahol Lavan and the opposition for voting in favor of dissolution and an "unnecessary election," according to coalition whip Miki Zohar. "The only common denominator between opposition parties and Kahol Lavan is their aspiration to hurt Netanyahu's tenure," Zohar said, adding that the anti-Netanyahu camp has "no achievements and no ideology."

In discussion preceding the vote to dissolve the Knesset, opposition lawmakers intensified their attacks. Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid said the Netanyahu-led government is failing to take control of the COVID crisis and that in addition to health and economic challenges, there is also "the complete decimation of the Israeli public's trust in its leadership."

Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz said Netanyahu is "misappropriating his position on a daily basis for the sole purpose of evading trial," and called Netanyahu's political partners "collaborators" who have prioritized their leader's personal interests above the interests of citizens.

Earlier Wednesday, Gantz's Kahol Lavan party pulled civil rights legislation from the docket for fear that it would not garner enough votes.

Kahol Lavan had proposed the bill in a bid to bolster its legislative record ahead of another possible election campaign. The Basic Law on Equal Rights and the Prevention of Discrimination is intended to "soften" the controversial nation-state law by explicitly enshrining the value of equality in the law.

The coalition agreement between the two leaders was formed at the start of the coronavirus crisis after a prolonged political deadlock. Opposition parties claim the current coalition is unstable and paralyzed in its ability to serve voters. They also say Netanyahu does not intend to keep his end of the deal in letting Gantz take over the premiership in one year's time.

Despite an ongoing trial in three corruption cases and weekly protests calling for his resignation, polls show that Netanyahu maintains his popularity. In the event of a new election, the Likud party will likely remain the largest in the Knesset. Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party, however, lost popularity as a result of the unity deal, which was seen by many voters as a betrayal of the party's foremost promise to end Netanyahu's rule. Netanyahu's current competition in the polls has surprisingly risen from the right-wing of the political map, with Former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett Yamina party winning 23 seats compared to Likud's 27, according to a Channel 13 poll from last week.  

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