Israelis will be going to the polls for the second time in half a year after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government with enough coalition members, an unprecedented set of events even for Israel’s volatile political system.
At the heart of dissolving the Knesset was the refusal by one secular party to join a coalition with ultra-Orthodox parties and their disagreement on passing a bill to draft Haredi men into the Israeli army. Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman withheld his party’s five mandates that would’ve given Netanyahu a solid majority of 65 seats in the parliament.
The midnight vote on Wednesday to dissolve the Knesset received 74 votes in favor and 45 against.
Netanyahu immediately lashed out against Liberman, blaming him for the government’s collapse and – in the first political salvo of the September elections – tossing the ultimate insult by calling him a left-winger.
“Avigdor Liberman is now part of the left. He brings down right-wing governments,” Netanyahu charged.
Liberman accused Netanyahu of “capitulating to the ultra-Orthodox.”
“We are natural partners for a right-wing government, but not for a government based on Jewish law,” he said.
Liberman’s party is staunchly right-wing, but is secular and hence is at odds with the religious parties who push for Jewish law, halacha, to supercede Israeli law.
“I am not against the ultra-Orthodox community,” Liberman emphasized on Facebook. “I am for the state of Israel. I am for a Jewish state but against a halachic state.”
The ultra-Orthodox parties fear military service will lead their young men into secularism. Netanyahu depends on their political support sp refused to press them on the issue.
Another issue that prevented a coalition agreement is a proposed law that would serve to protect Netanyahu from indictment in light of corruption charges against him. While the religious parties agreed to sign it, the opposition parties refused refused to be part of a government with a prime minister facing indictment.
This new campaign season and political uncertainty will most likely overshadow U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans to rollout the “deal of the century,” a proposed peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians. Trump’s Middle East envoy’s Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt arrived in Israel on Thursday amid the political chaos.
The administration is expected to rollout a portion of its plan at a conference in Bahrain scheduled for next month. This part of the plan is expected to lay out economic incentives for the Palestinians.