After Netanyahu Fails to Form Government, Israel to Hold New Election

Prime minister failed to mediate between Lieberman and ultra-Orthodox parties, sending Israel to its second election in six months

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media after voting in the Knesset, May 30, 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media after voting in the Knesset, May 30, 2019.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner,AP

After Prime Minister Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition by the deadline, the Knesset voted Wednesday night to dissolve itself and hold an election once again, just seven weeks after the previous one.  

Israelis will return to the polls on September 17, two weeks before Netanyahu's pre-indictment hearing on a series of corruption charges against him on October 2 and 3.

Coalition negotiations had been in a deadlock, caused by friction between Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman and the Hassidic faction of ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism. At the source is the draft bill Lieberman submitted last term, which would require yeshiva students, who are currently exempt from Israel's otherwise mandatory conscription, to draft to the Israeli military.

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Lieberman's condition for joining the coalition was that the draft law pass as-is, whereas UTJ would not join if the law was not amended. Netanyahu failed to mediate between them before the deadline given to him by the president, making it impossible for him to form a coalition.

Lieberman and Netanyahu traded barbs on social media and in Knesset, each blaming the other for the impasse. At a press conference, Lieberman continued attacking Likud, saying that the party's version of events cannot be rationalized without "a licensed psychiatrist." Even so, he said he would not support a government led by Benny Gantz, reiterating that he would prefer a right-wing government without the ultra-Orthodox.  

Likud MK Miki Zohar spearheaded the bill to dissolve the Knesset, whose passage enabled the government to circumvent the possibility of President Reuven Rivlin giving the mandate to form a government to a different candidate.

Due to the new election, the acting police comissioner’s term will be extended for the fourth time, delaying the apointment of a new police commissioner.

Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg lashed out at Labor on Facebook Thursday, following Labor Chaiman Avi Gabbay's announcement that he considered Netanyahu's offer of ministerial portfolios in exchange for passing the immunity law: "The ones who said they wouldn't sit with Netanyahu under any circumstance actually entertained the idea," she wrote.

She also said, however, that her party should merge with Labor in the new election in order to strengthen the left-wing bloc.

Negotiations and merger talks begin

In the upcoming election, most parties are likely to keep the same slates they ran with during April's election. Likud has already decided not to hold another primary, keeping its composition unchanged with the exception of four Kulanu representatives that Likud added to its slate. Labor, though, will hold a primary once again.

Haaretz’s Yossi Verter reported that Kahol Lavan is considering canceling the rotation of its chairmen, in which Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid would both serve half a term as prime minister. This would allow the party to form a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox, which would not be possible if Yair Lapid were chair.

Hadash Chairman Ayman Odeh said Thursday morning that the Knesset's two Arab parties, Hadash-Ta'al and United Arab List-Balad, may reunite. Odeh told Army Radio that the parties will meet next week to make the decision.

He also said that low voter turnout among Israel's Arabs was caused by the parties' split - they ran as the Joint List in 2015 - and a general lack of hope. Odeh added that if Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party "will understand that they need to deliver an alternative, there's a chance there might be a different government." 

Union of Right-Wing Parties MK Bezalel Smotrich, meanwhile, is negotiating a joint ticket with Ayelet Shaked, whose Hayamin Hehadash party failed to reach the electoral threshold in April. The move comes after rumors that Shaked was negotiating with Likud.

Jonathan Lis, Chaim Levinson, Aaron Rabinowitz and Jack Khoury contributed to this article.

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