Most Parties Agree on Election Date Over ultra-Orthodox Objections

The next prime minister will likely be elected on February 10, barring any surprises in the next few weeks, Knesset faction leaders decided yesterday.

President Shimon Peres announced on Monday that Kadima leader Tzipi Livni has not managed to form a government, paving the way for elections. Someone else could still take the prime minister's seat by November 17, if one candidate wins the support of 61 MKs who ask Peres to task the candidate with forming a government. If that does not happen, by law the next elections must be held 90 days later, which comes out February 10.

The date was chosen over the objection of MK Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism), who said it was "inconvenient" because it is the day after the Tu Bishvat (Arbor Day) holiday that Hasidim typically celebrate into the night. The minor holiday, which is not a national holiday, is also the date of the Gerrer rebbe's granddaughter's wedding - and Litzman is apparently worried that Gerrer Hasidim, a major element of UTJ's constituency, will have a hard time making it to the polls the following day.

"If party activists are up all night, I've lost all of election day," said Litzman.

The MK did not mention the wedding during yesterday's meeting, which took place in the office of Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, though Gerrer Hasidim, who Litzman represents, are not actually among the sects that mark Tu Bishvat with tishes, or Hasidic celebrations, late into the night when there is no major wedding taking place. All Gerrer Hasidim in Israel are expected to attend the wedding.

Nonetheless, Litzman insisted that his objection was due to celebrating the new year for the trees, adding that the date of the wedding has yet to be formally set.

"True, there could be a wedding among Gerrer Hasidim, but the reason is the tishes throughout the ultra-Orthodox public, which go on all night long," he said after the meeting.

Itzik said she would be willing to advance a law to move the date if all parties supported such a move, but coalition chairman Yoel Hasson said he objects to moving the date, ending discussion of the matter.

The vast majority of MKs - including members of the Kadima, Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas parties - support holding the elections on February 10, making it unlikely that the date will be changed. However, there could still be political developments over the next few weeks that cause the parties to amend their position. During that time, MKs are allowed to advance legislation that changes the election date.

The faction leaders also decided yesterday that the Knesset plenum would end its session on November 10, a week before the Knesset needs to disperse, in an effort not to keep the legislators in the Knesset for a significant period during which the government does not have majority support. They also decided not to present budget-related bills or controversial bills until the next session. The Knesset House Committee will function from now on as an approval committee, meaning that only bills it approves unanimously will be brought for a vote.

Peres charged Livni with forming a new government on September 22, but the Kadima chairwoman announced on Sunday that she could not put a coalition together after Shas said it would not join.