Knesset dissolves, sets unprecedented third election in under a year

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Knesset dissolves, sets unprecedented third election in under a year

Israelis to head back to polls on March 2 in latest bid to solve political deadlock that has engulfed country; short-lived 22nd Knesset automatically disperses at midnight

Benny Gantz walks during a session of the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 11, 2019.(Gali TIBBON / AFP)

Benny Gantz walks during a session of the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 11, 2019.(Gali TIBBON / AFP)

Israelis will return to the ballot box for the third consecutive national election in 11 months on March 2 after its top politicians again failed to build a governing coalition, in the latest twist in a sprawling and unprecedented crisis that has left the country in political limbo for a year.

The Knesset was automatically dispersed at midnight on Wednesday, but lawmakers continued debating until early Thursday on the date of the vote.

With no Knesset member having gained the support of 61 MKs by the midnight deadline, the Knesset officially dissolved and new elections set for 90 days time, March 10.

However, having started the debate before midnight, Knesset members had until President Reuven Rivlin’s official announcement on Thursday, that no MK gained enough support to build a coalition, to pass the law setting the date for the new elections.

A general view of the Israeli parliament during a vote on a bill to dissolve the parliament, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on December 11, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

With March 10 falling on the Jewish festival on Purim and various other calendar considerations, MKs eventually finalized a bill setting the elections for March 2.

The second and third readings of the vote passed by 96 in favor with seven against. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was absent for earlier proceedings, showed up for the votes that were passed just before 3:30 a.m. Thursday.

That vote brought to an official close attempts by Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to assemble a coalition following the September election. Talks between Netanyahu and Gantz, leaders of the two-largest parties, on a unity arrangement broke down with both sides trading blame.

Over the past 21 days, lawmakers also had the opportunity to nominate any MK for a shot at forming a government by gathering 61 signatures, but no such candidate was nominated.

This combination picture created on September 18, 2019 shows, Benny Gantz (R), leader of the Blue and White political alliance, waving to supporters in Tel Aviv early on September 18, 2019, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing supporters at his Likud party’s electoral campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv early on September 18, 2019. (Emmanuel Dunand and Menahem Kahana / AFP)

The April 2019 election made history when by the end of May it became the first-ever Israeli election that failed to produce a government. At the time, Netanyahu was short just one vote of a majority. Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman had refused to join over disagreements on the ultra-Orthodox enlistment law with Netanyahu’s Haredi political allies, precipitating the repeat vote in the fall.

Following both elections, neither Gantz’s Blue and White nor Netanyahu’s Likud had enough allies to form a government without the other or the support of the Yisrael Beytenu party, but the two parties could not finalize the terms for a unity coalition.

Netanyahu will be campaigning in the upcoming election in the shadow of criminal charges against him in three corruption probes, which were announced by the attorney general last month. He faces an indictment over bribery in one case, and fraud and breach of trust in the three cases. He denies all wrongdoing.

He also faces an internal leadership challenge by Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar in an upcoming party primary.

A member of the Israeli Druze community casts her ballot during Israel’s parliamentary elections on September 17, 2019, in Daliyat al-karmel in northern Israel. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The criminal charges have been a sticking point in the coalition talks since September, with Blue and White insisting it won’t serve under a prime minister facing trial and calling for Netanyahu to publicly declare he won’t seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution, which the prime minister is widely expected to request.

The centrist party has also been critical of the prime minister’s insistence on negotiating on behalf of all 55 MKs in his bloc of right-wing and religious parties. The parties also could not agree on who would serve as prime minister first under a power-sharing framework proposed by President Reuven Rivlin.

Even as another election has now been called, some recent polls indicated it may not resolve the political deadlock, with Liberman again potentially holding the balance of power.

A Tuesday poll showed Blue and White increasing its lead over Likud, expanding its current one-seat advantage to a four-seat lead — 37 seats to Likud’s 33 in the 120-member Knesset. Meanwhile, the rightist Haredi bloc of parties backing Netanyahu is set to fall by three seats, according to the Channel 13 poll, from the current 55 total to 52, far short of the 61 seats it would need to form a coalition in the 120-seat Knesset.

The poll predicted Likud falling even further if the party drops the scandal-laden Netanyahu in favor of his main challenger, Sa’ar.

When asked who they blamed for the expected third election, 41 percent of respondents blamed Netanyahu, followed by Yisrael Beytenu leader Liberman at 26%, and Gantz at a mere 5%. Twenty-three percent said “everyone is equally responsible.”

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Israel: Elections to be held on March 2 if no coalition formed

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Elections to be held on March 2 if no coalition formed

Two days before deadline, Likud and Blue and White agree on prospective date, a Monday, which must still be approved by Knesset

File: Officials count the ballots from soldiers and absentees at the Knesset in Jerusalem, a day after the general election, April 10, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

File: Officials count the ballots from soldiers and absentees at the Knesset in Jerusalem, a day after the general election, April 10, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Blue and White and Likud have agreed that the next round of elections will be held on Monday, March 2, 2020, barring a last-minute coalition deal in the next two days.

The Knesset is expected to dissolve on Wednesday night, confirming the failure of both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form a governing coalition following the inconclusive September elections.

If no lawmaker manages to get the support of at least 61 members of the 120-strong Knesset by Wednesday — and no candidate appears poised to do so — elections will be called for the third time in less than a year. The months-long political paralysis has continued since a previous round of voting in April failed to result in a majority government.

The proposed election date must clear three Knesset plenary readings to be approved, though even with just Likud and Blue and White’s support it already has a parliamentary majority.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said Monday the three votes would be scheduled for Wednesday.

“Even when it seems that there is no chance of preventing these costly and unnecessary elections, we will not begin this legislative process before Wednesday, to allow the party leaders to come to their senses in the eleventh hour, a moment before it’s too late,” said Edelstein.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The unprecedented third round of elections in under a year will also be held on a Monday, a first for Israel, which generally holds the national vote on a Tuesday.

The change was due to a series of anniversaries and holidays that fall out on March’s Tuesdays, including a memorial day for soldiers whose burial sites are unknown, the Purim carnival, and the death anniversary of a Hasidic sage that sees a large ultra-Orthodox pilgrimage to his Polish hometown.

On Sunday, Hebrew media reports said Netanyahu’s Likud was seeking the latest possible date for the elections, while Blue and White sought the earliest.

Following September’s vote, Netanyahu and Gantz publicly supported a unity government of their parties under a power-sharing deal outlined by the president, but neither would bend on who would serve as premier first; the prime minister insisted on negotiating on behalf of his allied bloc of 55 MKs; and Blue and White ruled out serving under Netanyahu due to the criminal charges against him.

Both leaders have traded blame over the logjam.

Netanyahu will be facing a challenge within his party — Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar will by vying for the Likud leadership — and will campaign in the shadow of criminal charges against him, announced last month by the attorney general, in three corruption probes.

On Sunday, Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel was appointed to head the Central Elections Committee, replacing Hanan Melcer, who presided over the previous two elections.

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Israel: Netanyahu Unable To Form A Coalition Government Returns Mandate To Rivlin

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

 

Netanyahu Will Return Mandate to Rivlin, Jerusalem Post Says

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin NetanyahuPhotographer: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will “return his mandate” to President Reuven Rivlin after being unable to form a government, according to a tweet by the Jerusalem Post’s chief political correspondent.

Gil Hoffman said in a post that he’ll make the move “barring a change of heart” by Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party on letting Netanyahu start as prime minister and bring allies with him into the coalition.

Gil Hoffman@Gil_Hoffman

Breaking: @netanyahu will return his mandate to form a government to @PresidentRuvi already tomorrow, barring a change of heart by @Kachollavan19 on letting Netanyahu start off as PM and bring allies with him into the coalition.

72 people are talking about this

Netanyahu was tapped last week to form Israel’s next government with no clear indication he’d be able to pull that off and end weeks of political stalemate.

The decision late Wednesday by President Reuven Rivlin to hand Netanyahu first crack at building a coalition in parliament granted the Israeli leader a political lifeline a week before he faces a crucial hearing on the corruption allegations that have clouded the last three years of his tenure.

Reuven Rivlin

Reuven Rivlin

Photographer: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Blue and White, which won the most seats in elections earlier this month, rejected demands from Netanyahu to form a unity government under his leadership with his right-wing and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies, according to the AP.

Gantz has not ruled out an alliance with Likud in but said he would not do so with Netanyahu facing indictment.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday tapped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu


(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

Arab Parties Back Benny Gantz as Israeli Leader, to End Netanyahu’s Grip

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Arab Parties Back Benny Gantz as Israeli Leader, to End Netanyahu’s Grip

ImageAyman Odeh, center, with other candidates from the Arab Joint List, an alliance of predominantly Arab parties.
CreditCreditAhmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

JERUSALEM — After 27 years of sitting out decisions on who should lead Israel, Arab lawmakers on Sunday recommended that Benny Gantz, the centrist former army chief, be given the first chance to form a government over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a watershed assertion of political power.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab Joint List, wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed published on Sunday that the alliance’s 13 incoming lawmakers — the third-largest faction in the newly elected Parliament — had decided to recommend Mr. Gantz because it would “create the majority needed to prevent another term for Mr. Netanyahu.”

“It should be the end of his political career,” Mr. Odeh wrote.

The Arab lawmakers’ recommendation, which Mr. Odeh and other members of the Joint List delivered to President Reuven Rivlin in a face-to-face meeting Sunday evening, reflected Arab citizens’ impatience to integrate more fully into Israeli society and to have their concerns be given greater weight by Israeli lawmakers.

“There is no doubt a historic aspect to what we are doing now,” Mr. Odeh said in the meeting with the president, which was broadcast live.

It was also a striking act of comeuppance for Mr. Netanyahu, who for years had rallied his right-wing supporters by inflaming anti-Arab sentiments. Before the Sept. 17 election, he accused Arab politicians of trying to steal the election and at one point accused them of wanting to “destroy us all.”

Israeli Arabs “have chosen to reject Benjamin Netanyahu, his politics of fear and hate, and the inequality and division he advanced for the past decade,” Mr. Odeh wrote in the Op-Ed for The Times.

Still, Mr. Odeh wrote that the Joint List would not enter a government led by Mr. Gantz because he had not agreed to embrace its entire “equality agenda” — fighting violent crime in Arab cities, changing housing and planning laws to treat Arab and Jewish neighborhoods the same, improving Arabs’ access to hospitals, increasing pensions, preventing violence against women, incorporating Arab villages that lack water and electricity, resuming peace talks with the Palestinians and repealing the law passed last year that declared Israel the nation-state only of the Jewish people.

The last time Arab lawmakers recommended a prime minister was in 1992, when two Arab parties with a total of five seats in Parliament recommended Yitzhak Rabin, though they did not join his government.

“We have decided to demonstrate that Arab Palestinian citizens can no longer be rejected or ignored,” Mr. Odeh wrote.

In the 1992 election, Mr. Rabin initially held a narrow majority in the 120-seat Knesset even without the Arab parties’ support, though he came to rely on it a year later after Shas, an ultra-Orthodox party, quit the government when Mr. Rabin signed the Oslo peace accords.

Mr. Odeh wrote that the decision to support Mr. Gantz was meant as “a clear message that the only future for this country is a shared future, and there is no shared future without the full and equal participation of Palestinian citizens.”

Mr. Gantz narrowly edged the prime minister in the national election last Tuesday. Afterward, both candidates called for unity, but differed on how to achieve it.

The former army chief appears to lack a 61-seat majority even with the Joint List’s support. He emerged from the election with 57 seats, including those of allies on the left and the Joint List, compared with 55 seats for Mr. Netanyahu and his right-wing allies.

Avigdor Liberman, leader of the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, which won eight seats, is in the position to be a kingmaker, but said on Sunday that he would not recommend any candidate. He said that Mr. Odeh and the Joint List were not merely political opponents, but “the enemies” and belonged in the “Parliament in Ramallah,” not in the Knesset.

Mr. Rivlin began hearing the recommendations of each major party Sunday evening and was to finish on Monday, before entrusting the task of forming a government to whichever candidate he believes has the best chance of being successful.

In remarks at the start of that process, Mr. Rivlin said the Israeli public wanted a unity government including both Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White party and Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud.

Isabel Kershner contributed reporting.

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