Israel's parliament overwhelmingly approved a preliminary bill to dissolve itself on Wednesday, paving the way for the country's fifth round of elections in the space of three-and-a-half years.
The bill, passed by 110 out 0f 120 lawmakers, will now go to the Knesset Committee, headed by lawmaker Nir Orbach of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's Yamina party. According to a political source, Orbach is averse to further elections and is in no rush to vote to dissolve the Knesset. The source believes Orbach is unlikely to bring the bill for a first reading this week. Coalition sources fear that Orbach is searching for an alternative coalition from within the current Knesset.
Israel heads to fifth election, and its democracy is on the line
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said his Likud party would not support any law put forth by the government until coalition defector Amichai Chikli is allowed to join the opposition in the next round of polls.
Chikli was booted from Yamina in April due to his opposition to the ruling coalition formed last year. Consequently, he cannot run for reelection in the next national vote with any existing Knesset party. Likud is demanding the rule be revoked for Chikli before they back any bill, including the law extending regulations that apply Israeli law to West Bank settlers, which precipitated the current crisis.
The regulations in the bill, which have been extended every five years, apply civil law to the settlers, while the Palestinians are subject to military law. Some United Arab List members saw the bill as legitimizing the occupation of the West Bank.
Bennett said he wants to finish dissolving the Knesset before the law expires.
Bill banning indicted candidates to serve as PM
After bitter recriminations on Wednesday, the coalition could end up accelerating a vote barring anybody under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister in one of its final moves. Such a bill would potentially target Netanyahu, who is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in several court cases. Bennett, however, said that he would against such a bill, tweeting: "The right to be elected and elect is sacred and is the very core of democracy. This was and still is my opinion."
Coalition sources said the debate on the bill potentially targeting Netanyahu is part of the election campaign of the parties supporting it. They said its supporters believe such bills have little chance of passing. "No one thinks it has a serious chance," said one of the party members. New Hope and Yisrael Beiteinu members also expressed skepticism.
The attempt to attach the bill banning indicted candidates for prime minister to the bill dissolving the Knesset is liable to delay approval of calling early elections. Yamina members, among them Orbach, are likely in such case to delay the bill's advancement.
A coalition source said that there is progress in talks between the coalition and opposition regarding various bills, among them the date of a new election and Omicron grants. However, the Knesset committee did not convene Wednesday to consider the bill regarding indicted prime ministerial candidates.
Bill to limit term of PM
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Sa'ar announced he intends to raise at the coming cabinet meeting on Sunday a bill setting a term limit of eight years for the role of prime minister. A second reading of the bill, which would not apply retroactively to Netanyahu, was approved in March. However, its progress was halted because the coalition failed to attain a majority to support it. Thus, the bill would have to start over with a first reading in order to move forward.
On Monday, Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a joint statement that they had "exhausted options to stabilize" their diverse coalition a year after it was established. In an emotional address, the prime minister said that it was "not an easy moment, but we took the right decision for the State of Israel."
Bennett said he "turned every stone" to save the coalition. "We did everything," he noted, while panning the "unprecedented politicization" in the Knesset.
While the first signs of trouble in the ruling coalition began in April, when it lost its majority after its first defection, the crisis began in earnest earlier this month. At that point, the coalition failed to pass an ordinarily routine bill extending regulations that apply Israeli law to West Bank settlers: Coalition members from the United Arab List party refrained from falling in line, and many in the Benjamin Netanyahu-led opposition voted against it with the aim of shaming and undermining the coalition.
After the legislation failed to pass, Orbach told Bennett that he would not vote with the coalition until it does.
Following Monday's announcement regarding the vote to dissolve the Knesset, Netanyahu vowed to establish "a broad, strong, and stable national government…that would bring back national pride."