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Israeli Government Implodes: Elections To Be Held March 17

Vote on Jewish State Law Postponed

After a loud and angry debate on Wednesday, the Prime Minister of Israel disbanded his government, and party leaders set March 17 as the date for new “snap” elections. The vote was 84:0 with one abstention. The Prime Minister met earlier in the week with Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, who was also his finance minister, in order to reconcile their differences and prevent the collapse of the government. Instead, the meeting came to a stormy end when Lapid refused to capitulate to the terms of the ultimatum given to him by Netanayhu.

He demanded that Lapid stop “sabotaging the work of the government,” retract his opposition to Netanyahu’s version of the Jewish nation-state bill, and freeze the zero-VAT plan, the flagship of Lapid’s economic agenda. He accused him of subversion for talking about the deterioration in Israel-US relations under Netanyahu. He also accused Livni of misbehaving and said she had brought the situation on herself.

Netanyahu dismissed ministers Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid on Tuesday night, accusing them of holding a “putsch” against him and preventing him from leading. After he fired his ministers, all the other ministers resigned.

Then Netanyahu also pushed off the vote on the Jewish State Law. The hard-line version of the nationality legislation promoted by MK Elkin and other right-wing lawmakers with Mr. Netanyahu’s backing. Yesh Atid (Lapid’s party) and Hatnua (Livni’s party) denounced it as emphasizing Israel’s Jewish character above its commitment to democracy, and there were mass demonstrations against the law, along with much criticism from American Jews, the United States government and voices in the EU.

Netanyahu postponed the vote that was supposed to take place on Wednesday to next Sunday. It is said he softened draft of the bill, using wording which Livni and Lapid reportedly do not oppose.

Just moments after the failed meeting on Monday. Aryeh Deri, head of Shas called for new elections. He told the Israeli media that “moves had been afoot in recent weeks by some of Netanyahu’s coalition partners to unseat him in mid-government, and that he had been asked to help them form an alternative government.” And then he refused to name names, but said he rejected their approaches. Deri also said Netanyahu sought promises from Shas and the other ultra-Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, to partner with him in a new coalition. On Tuesday, MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), reiterated that his party had made no deal, not before and not after the elections. The haredim held fast to their terms: pass the Elkin national bill and roll back the haredi draft.

MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) said ahead of the meeting “We didn’t want these votes, they were forced on us and we ask for the elections to be as soon as possible. During elections the country is paralyzed.” Despite her statements that Jewish Home didn’t want the elections, which echoed comments by Jewish Home MK Uri Orbach Tuesday night.

Some suggest that Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett may in fact have engineered the elections in backroom politicking to try and strengthen his own position. Gil Ronen opined on Arutz7 that Bennett stands to gain because, according to every poll, his party is the only one that can be expected to grow by 50% or more in the ballots. Presently, Jewish Home has 12 MKs. The polls predict 17, 19, maybe more. He wrote that Bennett is the likely candidate for minister of defense public because he is not ready for Bennett as prime minister, and people close to him, like Minister Uri Orbach, say so too. If, as defense minister, he brings security back to the Israeli streets, and agrees to strike Iran he would be “a shoo-in to replace Binyamin Netanyahu at the country’s helm, when the time comes.” Ronen says the two have been talking about exactly that, and that Netanyahu has “come to accept that Bennett will be his most senior partner in the next government. Bennett confirmed as much.”

Ronen wrote, “…many point to the national law as psychological point of no return. Netanyahu was apparently truly hurt by the bill. He could be seen muttering to himself, ‘shame, shame,’ as the bill passed on the Knesset floor, in the preliminary reading. Bennett may not have voted for the bill on the Knesset floor, but he originally co-authored it and was behind the bill from the get-go, causing no small amount of consternation among his loyal followers, who could not figure out why he appeared to be helping out Israel’s leftist stiflers. The mystery now appears to have been solved: Bennett wanted to put Netanyahu in a dark corner, and then offer him the way out. This is precisely what happened.”

Yitzhak Herzog of Labor intends to run for Prime Minister and is certain of his victory.

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