Israel Heads to New Election After Netanyahu Fails to Form Coalition

Election will be held on September 17 ■ Netanyahu, Lieberman trade accusations on triggering second election in two months ■ Knesset dissolved

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enters the Knesset, Jerusalem, May 29, 2019.
Emil Salman

>> UPDATE: Israel to hold new election on September 17

The Knesset voted Wednesday night to dissolve itself after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition, sending Israel to a new election mere seven weeks after the last one. Israel will now go to the polls on September 17, two weeks before Netanyahu's planned pre-indictment hearing.

By Tormenting Bibi, Lieberman Could Save Israeli DemocracyHaaretz Weekly Ep. 28

At the heart of the impasse was the issue of drafting ultra-Orthodox  yeshiva students: Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman, without whom Netanyahu can't form a coalition, refused to back down on the bill's terms, while ultra-Orthodox parties claimed they have already yielded enough ground.

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2:21 AM Ultra-Orthodox MK: Lieberman hates Netanyahu, the public will not forgive him

MK Moshe Gafni, chairman of the Degel Hatorah, which is part of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, said that "Lieberman has a problem, and the public needs to know that - he hates Prime Minister Netanyahu. Full stop." Gafni blamed Lieberman, saying he "rode on our public with so many stories of the draft law - I know the Israeli mentality well, Lieberman won't pass the electoral threshold. The public will not forgive him!"

2:16 A.M. Yair Lapid: Netanyahu going to elections to save himself from jail

Kahol Lavan Co-Chair Yair Lapid took to Facebook to write that Netanyahu "has surrendered, is washed out, and in the end, has failed. He hasn't succeeded in forming a government, and is now dragging the country into another election, which will cost billions, and its only goal is to save himself from jail." 

12:41 A.M. MKs lay blame on Lieberman, Netanyahu

Union of Right-Wing Parties MK Bezalel Smotrich blamed Lieberman for the decision to go to elections: "He is the only one who bears responsibility fo rthe chaos the State of Israel finds itself in - going to elections is unecessary and expensive." He added, "If a left-wing government is established after the elections it'll be because of just one man - his name is [Avigdor] Lieberman," and said that the "irresponsible" MK "cannot be in the next government, full stop."

Union of Right-Wing Parties Chairman Rabbi Rafi Peretz also struggled to understand Lieberman's motivations. "This thing hurts me very much. I made recommendations, and we went back, and we went above and beyond to find a connection. We unfortunately did not succeed."

Meanwhile, Hadash-Ta'al Chairman Ayman Odeh said that "any Knesset where Netanyahu is the only one who can form a government needs to dissolve," adding that "We're going to elections and offering hope for a partnership of all democratic forces - for justice, equality and peace."     

12:26 A.M. Chairwoman of Meretz calls for merge with Labor party

Chairwoman of Meretz party Tamar Zandberg said she will approach Labor party for talks regarding a merge: "It's time for a large leftist bloc."

12:17 A.M. Netanyahu says Lieberman is a leftist, brings down right-wing governments

Benjamin Netanyahu said Lieberman misled his voters and is dragging the entire country into a new election "after he was the cause of the previous one too, just because he wants a few more votes, which he won’t get. It’s just unbelievable." Netanyahu also said Lieberman is a leftist: "he brings down right-wing governments."

12:12 A.M. Lieberman says Israel heads to new election because of Likud

MK Avigdor Lieberman wrote on his Facebook page that Likud holds responsibility for the repeat election because of its refusal to vote on bill to draft the ultra-Orthodox. 

12:10 A.M. Knesset votes to dissolve, new election to be scheduled

74 Knesset members voted for dissolution minutes before midnight deadline after Netanyahu fails to form coalition. 45 members voted against. 

11:30 P.M. Knesset convened, waiting to vote on dissolution

Netanyahu has entered the Knesset while Likud lawmaker speaks. Lieberman says that Israel is going to an election "because Netanyahu caved to the ultra-Orthodox."

61 Knesset members must vote to dissolve the Knesset for it to take effect. If the Knesset is dissolved, Israel would head to a new election. 

10:18 P.M. Vote on dissolving Knesset expected at 11:30 P.M.

10:11 P.M. Arab parties decide to vote in favor of dissolving Knesset

The ten elected lawmakers from Arab parties have announced they will vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset tonight, which would, if it passes, send Israel to a new election. 

>> Netanyahu just suffered one of the biggest losses of his political career ■ Why a new election? Only two men know ■ Netanyahu’s darkest, deepest fear just came true

9:47 P.M. Lieberman, ultra-Orthodox reject Netanyahu proposal

Both Lieberman and the ultra-Orthodox parties have rejected Netanyahu's latest attempt to forge a deal.

9:28 P.M. Ultra-Orthodox parties mulling Netanyahu's latest proposal, lean towards rejecting it

9:13 P.M. Netanyahu offers Lieberman deal to end crisis

In a last-ditch effort to broker a deal between ex-defense minister Avigdor Lieberman and the ultra-Orthodox parties over the military draft bill that has caused a political crisis that threatens a new election in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered the two sides a new suggestion, whereby the bill Lieberman is insisting on would be brought to an initial vote after the coalition is formed while the two sides would continue negotiating thereafter before the final vote. Bills must pass three votes in the legislature to become law. Netanyahu’s offer appears to rest on the idea that since, if no bill is passed by July, all ultra-Orthodox Israelis will have to be drafted (as per High Court orders), they will have an incentive to agree to a version of Lieberman’s bill.

8:55 P.M. Likud says coalition talks completed with 60 lawmakers on board

A Likud statement says coalition talks are over, with 60 lawmakers agreeing to join the government, presumably including the four elected members of Kulanu. Kulanu Chairman Moshe Kahlon says the party has not signed a coalition agreement and will not do so until at least 61 lawmakers are on board, and will also not sign unless Kahlon is promised the finance portfolio.

7:56 P.M. President will consult with party leaders if Netanyahu cannot form government by deadline, Knesset does not dissolve

President Reuven Rivlin will begin consultations with party leaders tomorrow at 9 A.M in the event that Netanyahu does not succeed in forming a government by midnight and if the Knesset does not vote to dissolve itself. They will determine which MK will be given the mandate to form a coalition instead. 

7:48 P.M. Labor chair refuses to join Netanyahu government

Labor Chairman Avi Gabbay took to Twitter to announce his rejection of ministerial portfolios offered to his party by Netanyahu. "Over the course of the last month, the Avoda party received a number of invitations to join the government," Gabbay wrote. "The latest proposal last night included committing to a package of steps to protect democracy. It included annulling the reinforcement, immunity and personal laws, among others. Members of the faction discussed the proposal and decided not to accept it."

He added, "Our position remains that there is no place for more elections, and that it is the president's duty to give the mandate to form the government to MK Benny Gantz." 

7:40 P.M. Three scenarios for how Israel's coalition crisis will end

With the former defense minister and the prime minister apparently stuck in a stalemate, here are some ways the situation could develop.

7:36 P.M. Netanyahu offers defense portfolio to Labor

Netanyahu has offered the Labor Party the defense portfolio in the hopes of convincing it to join a coalition. Labor Chairman Avi Gabbay has yet to refuse or publicly respond. Lawmaker Tal Rousso has also not responded publicly, while the remaining Labor lawmakers, Itzik Shmuli, Stav Shaffir, Shelly Yacimovich and Amir Peretz publicly opposed the idea. Prior to the April 9 election, Gabbay committed repeatedly that he would not sit in a Netanyahu government. 

7:29 P.M. Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers meeting with Netanyahu

United Torah Judaism's Yaakov Litzman, Uri Maklev, Moshe Gafni and Shas's Arye Dery are currently in a meeting with Netanyahu.

6:28 P.M. Lieberman: 'Everything is in the same place'

"Everything stands in the same place where it was," Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said, speaking at the Knesset. "The moment [the military draft] bill passes the second and third reading in its original text, we will be redeemed." There is no ulterior motive, Lieberman urged, calling on ultra-Orthodox lawmakers to accept the bill in its original drafting. 

5:28 P.M. Yisrael Katz chosen as foreign minister

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Likud MK Yisrael Katz as foreign minister.

3:55 P.M. President Reuven Rivlin says he will 'do everything I can to prevent Israel from going to elections'

President Reuven Rivlin says he will "do everything I can to prevent the State of Israel from heading to another election campaign." 

3:07 P.M. Lieberman's goal is to eliminate Prime Minister Netanyahu because he wants to take his place, a Likud official says. "For a few seats and a hunger for power Lieberman is dragging an entire country to elections," the official says. Lieberman's party says in response it "laments the style and language in the briefings coming out of the prime minister's office."

12:15 P.M.: Knesset opens debate on bill to dissolve it

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein officially opens debate on bill to dissolve the Knesset, ahead of final votes expected later Wednesday.

11:56 A.M.: Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz 'getting ready for a long night'

Yair Lapid tweets a selfie of himself and party leader Benny Gantz, along with the caption: "Getting ready for a long night." The Kahol Lavan co-chair was referring to the planned Knesset debate.

Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich replied: "But it's only morning."

11:27 A.M.: Hadash-Ta'al undecided on vote to dissolve Knesset

Arab-majority Hadash-Ta'al party, which abstained in the first reading of the bill to dissolve the Knesset, could support it in the second and third readings, but some party members oppose the move.

"We can't allow ourselves not to act in a situation where we can prevent the establishment of a far-right party," says MK Aida Touma-Sliman. "Going back to the people and to the vote is the better option in the current situation."

However, MK Ahmad Tibi says "our position ... hasn't changed, because we don't want to be pawns in the game of spins Netanyahu and [Likud lawmaker] Miki Zohar are leading. It's important for us that Netanyahu go to the president and say 'I've failed,' but as opposition, we'd be happy to take down Netanyahu and his government in the making."

11:01 A.M.: Yisrael Beiteinu MK says ultra-Orthodox parties block government

Yisrael Beiteinu lawmaker Oded Forer says in a tweet that ultra-Orthodox parties are the ones blocking the formation of a new government, rather than his own party. "I suggest Likud direct pressure to them instead of us," he writes.

9:41 A.M.: Opposition plans filibuster, Meretz chairwoman says

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg says opposition lawmakers will speak at the Knesset in order to delay the vote to dissolve the Knesset at least until Wednesday midnight, in a bid to let President Reuven Rivlin name a new candidate to form a governing coalition.

"We're prepared for a filibuster of at least three days, which is the maximum amount of time for the president to task another Knesset member with forming a government," she says. "If they try to limit speaking time in order to prevent it, we won't hesitate to go to the Supreme Court."

9:24 A.M.: United Arab List-Balad supports dissolving Knesset

United Arab List-Balad chairman Mansour Abbas tells Haaretz his party would support dissolving the Knesset. "In lack of an alternative to Netanyahu, we'll keep supporting dissolving the Knesset," he says.

"If there would be a realistic alternative for another Knesset member to form a government, we'll reconsider our decision to support the bill to dissolve the Knesset," Abbas says.

Balad's Mtanes Shehadeh adds his party "wouldn't miss a chance to take down Netanyahu's government."

8:24 A.M.: Lieberman 'isn't after a real solution,' Likud lawmaker says

Senior Likud member Ze'ev Elkin tells Israel's Army Radio that Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman's actions "show he isn't after a real solution." According to Elkin, Lieberman "knowingly prevents a Netanyahu-led government."

Elkin argues Lieberman can't ask ultra-Orthodox parties to forgo their demands on the draft bill since Yisrael Beiteinu only got five Knesset seats, whereas United Torah Judaism and Shas have eight seats each.

8:23 A.M.: The political cockfight just got out of hand | Analysis

There is no point trying to predict what will happen before the deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to present his government on Wednesday because it is impossible to divine the thoughts of Yisrael Beiteinu chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman. Yet one thing can be said even now with some degree of confidence; the military conscription law and the crisis with the ultra-Orthodox is not the main story, but rather a cover for much deeper and driven motivations.

If it’s about hunger for power, vengeance or just plain sadism in dragging Netanyahu’s frayed nerves publicly through the streets, Lieberman has achieved his goal, so a narrow (and terrible) right-wing government can be declared.

>> Read Ravit Hecht's full analysis

8:19 A.M.: Likud to lead 'aggressive election campaign'

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely of Likud tells Israel's Army Radio that Avigdor Lieberman's "Yisrael Beiteinu may no longer be" should a new election be held. According to her, "we won't be as generous as we've been. It will be an aggressive campaign, and if you don't want to get there, come before midnight," referring to Netanyahu's deadline to form a government.

12:10 A.M.: Lieberman reiterates his conditions for joining Netanyahu's coalition

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman says in a Facebook post: "We stick to our proposal – the draft bill [passed] in a second and third reading in its original form, just like [it passed] in first reading, with ultra-Orthodox Knesset members sitting out of that vote. That's our proposal, there's no alternative."