The Knesset Dissolves; Israelis Will Return to the Polls on March 23

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz in the early days of their emergency coalition government, June 15, 2020
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz in the early days of their emergency coalition government, June 15, 2020Credit: Adina Vellman/Knesset's spokesperson office

The Knesset dissolved Tuesday at midnight, as the legally mandated deadline to pass Israel's 2020 state budget expired, triggering a fourth election cycle in less than two years.

This turned the current government into a transitional one until after Election Day, set for March 23, as negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan parties to avoid election have failed.

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Defense Minister Gantz walked back from the understandings he had reached with Netanyahu out of concern that members of his party, first and foremost Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, wouldn’t support them. 

Speaking on Tuesday evening, hours before the deadline expired, Netanyahu said he “didn’t want” to go to election, but that his party would “win big.”

Kahol Lavan pointed to the indictments against Netanyahu following his remarks: “If there was no trial, there would have been a budget and there wouldn't be elections.”

A bill that would have delayed the budget deadline to next Thursday, December 31, failed to pass on Monday, with 49 MKs voting against it, and 47 voting in favor. The bill called for approving the 2020 budget on the last day of the year, and the 2021 budget on January 6. Once that failed, efforts to put off the inevitable halted, since the bill could not be brought for a vote again.

With the formation of the current government in May, the coalition agreement stipulated that a two-year budget would be approved by August. Immediately after the government was sworn in, Likud backtracked and demanded a one-year budget, with an eye to scuttling the agreement to rotate the premiership next year. Kahol Lavan refused to agree and the budget was not advanced. A compromise suggested by MK Zvi Hauser led to a postponement of the deadline for approving the budget to Wednesday, leaving only a few days in 2020. The last budget passed by the Knesset was for the year 2018, which has formed the operational basis for government ministries and the economy ever since.

Three Kahol Lavan MKs – Assaf Zamir, Miki Haimovich and Ram Shefa – voted against the bill, while the rest of the faction were not present in the hall. Two Likud MKs, Michal Shir and Sharron Haskel, both now allied with Gideon Sa’ar, who left Likud earlier this month, did not support the bill either; Shir voted against, while Haskel was absent. Neither Shefa nor Shir had announced their moves in advance, and both came to the Knesset at the last minute for the vote. Shir resigned from the Knesset on Tuesday and announced she would be joining Sa’ar’s new party.

The four members of the United Arab List, one of the parties that make up the Joint List, who have not ruled out cooperating with Netanyahu, were absent from the vote. The other Joint List parties – Hadash, Balad and Ta’al – condemned the move, saying the absence had not been coordinated with them, and that it “Constitutes a deviation from the list’s commitment to its voters, and nearly saved Netanyahu's life.”

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