JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel’s parliament began voting to dissolve itself Wednesday afternoon, marking the first step Israeli leaders must take to officially call an unprecedented third election set for March 2, 2020.
Lawmakers still have until midnight Wednesday to form a government, but since there appears to be no one capable of winning the support of at least 61 seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset before the deadline, the country will likely be forced to the polls for the third time in less than a year.
Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz tried and failed to form government coalitions of their own after an inconclusive September election. When pushed to form a unity government where both would take turns serving as prime minister, Netanyahu and Gantz refused to compromise on their demands.
Netanyahu wants to serve as prime minister first so he can fight the serious corruption charges against him from a more favorable position. According to Israeli law, prime ministers who have been indicted for crimes do not have to resign from office. Instead, they can claim immunity and fight the charges while still leading the country. Netanyahu also insists on keeping his alliance with the ultra-orthodox Jewish parties, a move that has angered many Israelis because the ultra-orthodox are not Zionists and do not want to serve in the military.
Meanwhile, Gantz refuses to sit in a government with Netanyahu because he has been indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes. Instead, Gantz said he is willing to form a government with another leader in Netanyahu’s Likud party.
One Likud member named Gideon Saar has already arisen to openly challenge Netanyahu's position as leader of the party.
“If I am elected head of Likud, I will lead it to victory,” Saar announced Tuesday, citing polls that he was more likely to be able to build a stable government.
However, other members of Likud have rallied behind Netanyahu and he is expected to beat Saar in a Likud primary on Dec. 26.
Both Gantz and Netanyahu said they are working until the very last-minute Wednesday to avoid a third election, but they both blame each other for Israel’s political stalemate
Yisrael Beytenu chairman and former Netanyahu ally Avigdor Lieberman said both Netanyahu and Gantz are to blame for a third election.
“The two major parties, which have 65 seats together, are responsible for another unnecessary election. Beyond the ego battle that took place for months, neither really wanted a unity government, but rather another election,” said Lieberman at a faction meeting.
Lieberman critics point out that Israel wouldn’t be headed for a third election if he had agreed to join the Netanyahu government after the elections in April.
Another costly election is expected to yield similar results and will cost the Israeli economy billions.