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Israeli government collapses; Fourth election in two years to be held soon

Last Updated on December 23, 2020 at 5:34 pm

The Israeli parliament has been disbanded after the split governing coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to pass a budget, triggering a fourth election in two years and renewing an ongoing political crisis.

For weeks, the alliance headed by Netanyahu and his former election opponent, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, was inching towards dissolution, weakened by mutual acrimony and distrust.  

Elections conducted as early as March 23 could see the dissolution of parliament, the Knesset, potentially pushing Netanyahu seeks re-election while the coronavirus pandemic is still raging and as his long-awaited corruption trial intensifies.

The coalition led by the right-wing Likud of Netanyahu and the centrist Blue and White Party of Gantz had until midnight to enact a budget for 2020.  

Failure to do so forces the dissolution of parliament legally, Knesset spokesman Uri Michael told AFP on Tuesday.  

 In April, they decided to form a so-called unity government. He never trusted Netanyahu, Gantz said, but he wanted to spare the Israelis a fourth election, especially as the pandemic was gathering pace.  

The three-year coalition agreement stipulated that, with Gantz taking over in November 2021, Netanyahu will serve as premier for 18 months.  Gantz requested that the government pass a budget covering both 2020 and 2021, arguing that stability was required for Israel and the coalition.  

But Netanyahu has declined to accept a budget for 2021. That was a tactical trick, his critics said, to keep the coalition shaky, making it easier for him to sink the government before he had to give Gantz control.  
The reason we are heading for an election is because Netanyahu refused to pass a budget required by law and honor political agreements so that for the duration of his trial, he can remain in power, Blue and White said late Sunday that they had an agreement with Likud on a bill to buy more time to pass the budget.

On Tuesday, however, the Knesset rejected that bill, after yet another bitter back-and-forth round between Netanyahu and Gantz. Lawmakers from both Likud and Blue and White voted against the idea for a coalition.  

Gantz, currently in a coronavirus precautionary quarantine, was unable to vote.

In the new elections, both Netanyahu and Gantz face significant political risks, especially if they are held in March.  

That would have given the public more time to vaccinate against the novel coronavirus and potentially drive Israel’s economy to recovery.

In February, when he is due to appear in court several times a week for his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, a March election would force Netanyahu to campaign.  

Recent achievements, including a series of US-brokered normalization agreements with former rival Arab states, are expected to be highlighted by Netanyahu.  

But with his ironclad alliance with outgoing President Donald Trump, he will no longer be able to Blue and White broke up and recent polls suggest that if elections were held soon, the party would win only a handful of seats.  

Overall, the prospects for center left parties appear dim, potentially complicating any attempt by the administration of President-elect Joe Biden to renew Israeli engagement with the  Palestinians.  

“We enter this election with a clear advantage in polls for the political right,” said Plesner of the IDI, emphasizing “the growing possibility” of a right-wing camp.