Israel is headed to an unprecedented second round of national Parliamentary elections, that after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to bridge the gaps between his ultra-orthodox and secular-right would-be coalition partners, before his Wednesday-midnight deadline expired.
After Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman refused to compromise on his election-promises, Netanyahu sought to avoid another round of elections, despite his pledge to establish a right-wing nationalist government, by seeking-out support from his old-time rivals, the center-left Labor party.
According to multiple confirmed reports, the Prime Minister-designate offered Labor Chairman Avi Gabbai a series of ministerial positions, including that of Finance Ministry.
Following a brief consultation, however, the Labor party released a statement in which it adamantly rejected Netanyahu’s proposal. Netanyahu’s failure to establish a coalition brought about a vote, shortly after midnight on Wednesday, to immediately disband the Knesset, which was passed by an overwhelming majority. According to the Israeli Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein: “Bill of the 21st. Knesset dissolution, (Jewish calendar year) 5779, 2019, in third reading: 74 in favor, 45 against. I determine that the bill was approved in three readings as required.”
After exiting the plenum, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid the blame for his failure on Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman, accusing him of jumping-ship from the right-wing to the center-left political bloc. “We will run a sharp, clear election campaign which will bring us victory. We will win, we will win,” / “It is just unbelievable, just unbelievable. Avigdor Lieberman is now part of the left. Avigdor Lieberman is part of the left. He is from the left’s block. You give him votes for the right and he doesn’t give his vote to the right-wing government. This is what we see,” Netanyahu said.
Lieberman, who served as Defense Minister in the previous government – yet resigned from the coalition after Netanyahu refused to launch a military operation against the Hamas-run Gaza Strip – insisted that the failure to reach a coalition agreement lays solely with Netanyahu’s Likud and ultra-orthodox partners for refusing to accept the IDF formulated conscription bill, which is intended to implement a long-desired arrangement that would meet the military’s enlistment demands. Lieberman stated that: “The Likud has failed in this task to form a coalition, to form a government. Together with their turn to the ultra-orthodox. they fully bear responsibility to the fact that Israel is now going back, once again, to election.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a press conference yesterday, during which he unofficially started his election-campaign by lashing out at Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman. In his words: “We have a combination here of two things – a personal desire, a real personal whim to draw more votes, and obsession – there is no other word for it – a real obsession to topple right-wing governments. (Avigdor) Lieberman is the national toppler, he a serial toppler of right-wing government.”
Political experts told TV7 that Netanyahu’s personal smear-rhetoric against Lieberman is to be projected throughout the pre-elections period, and is expected to gradually intensify.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that election polls conducted by Israeli domestic media show both Netanyahu’s Likud and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu parties gaining strength in the fallout. however, the polls also indicate that Netanyahu will be unable to form a right-wing government without Lieberman.
That is why, Lieberman seeks to avoid a personal clash with Netanyahu, and announced last night – in a party press briefings – that his party will support “the candidate of the largest national (right-wing) party” – so long as it does not infringe on his party’s commitments. According to the Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman: “Our commitment is for a national government and we will do everything to form a national government and not an Ultra-Orthodox government. What is discussed now is an Ultra-Orthodox government, not a national one. Also, regarding the candidate (for prime minister), whoever will be the candidate of the largest national party will of course be our candidate. We definitely won’t recommend – while I appreciate Benny Gantz (former IDF Chief of Staff) – we definitely won’t recommend Benny Gantz (head of centrist Blue-White party) nor Avi Gabay (head of the Labor party) or anyone else.”