Israelis are headed for a third election in one year after the Knesset dissolved itself on Wednesday following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz's failure to form a governing coalition.
Israeli lawmakers passed overnight a bill to hold the third election on March 2, 2020.
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Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu consulted with his attorneys over whether it would be legally wise to forgo his right to request immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases he was charged in if he and his rivals manage to overcome the current political deadlock and set up a government. Gantz announced Tuesday that he was willing to negotiate with the prime minister if he would not request immunity.
Likud MK David Bitan expressed optimism for the right-wing bloc in the third election: "I think this is Netanyahu's last chance, and maybe he can actually get 61 seats," he told Channel 12 News. "I think most of the right-wing voters who didn't vote last time will go vote."
He added that Shas Chairman Arye Dery once faced indictment and received 17 seats in an election. "It doesn't rule out that the majority of the public that supports Netanyahu and the right will go vote specifically because of this," he said. "Netanyahu will need to do the work, and that's why I'm against a [party leadership] primary." Likud, Bitan said, will lose 10 seats if Netanyahu is not at the helm.
According to a Channel 13 News poll published on Tuesday, Kahol Lavan would get 37 out 120 Knesset seats in a potential election, while Likud is predicted 33, possibly allowing Gantz to form a narrow coalition with other center-left parties and Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu.
Lieberman slammed former ally Netanyahu on Wednesday morning, saying he had been subjected to “smears, distortions and malicious versions.” Contradicting claims by Netanyahu and the people around him, Lieberman said he had never intended to set up a narrow coalition with Kahol Lavan, but would have supported a broad unity government.
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“The difference between us is that I have values and you have only interests,” Lieberman wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday morning, addressing Netanyahu.
“Mr. Prime Minister, apparently at your age your memory is betraying you and you forgot, I supposed, the president’s proposal which gave you, not Benny Gantz, the right to serve as prime minister first. If I had conducted myself the way you are conducting yourself, I’d have joined a minority government with Kahol Lavan, without hesitation.”
Lieberman also complained about the “accusations being disseminated” by “pet journalists” on Netanyahu’s behalf, namely that the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman is being manipulated by hidden elements overseas. “Perhaps you are an agent of hidden, rich elements from various parts of the world," Lieberman asked, "perhaps you are an agent for James Packer? Perhaps you’re an agent for Spencer Partrich? Or maybe you’re serving Nathan Milikowsky’s economic interests?”
He lashed out at Netanyahu’s behavior in dealing with the charges against him. “I underwent quite a few investigations and never feared them. I never hid behind immunity, and financed all the legal proceedings with my own money. Instead of tapping friends, I took out a bank loan.”
“If I wanted to attack or hurt you, Mr. Prime Minister, where it hurts most," the former defense minister added, "I would remind you of what you said in 2008 about another prime minister, Ehud Olmert: ‘This is a prime minister up to his neck in investigations and he has no public or moral mandate to decide such important things in the State of Israel'.”
Later Wednesday, Lieberman said at an Yisrael Beiteinu faction meeting that "the two big parties bear the responsibility for an unnecessary election campaign." According to him, "beyond the ego battle that has been going on for months, in essence Likud and Kahol Lavan didn't want a unity government."
Lieberman specifically went after Gantz's party, charging that "they behaved in a disgraceful way and deceived their voters."