Knesset Moves to Dissolve for March Elections

YERUSHALAYIM -
A Knesset security guard tries to grab a picture of Netanyahu as a ticking bomb away from Labor MK Hilik Bar in the plenum on Wednesday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A Knesset security guard tries to grab a picture of Netanyahu as a ticking bomb away from Labor MK Hilik Bar in the plenum on Wednesday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A near-empty Knesset plenum on Wednesday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A near-empty Knesset plenum on Wednesday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset moved with rare alacrity on Wednesday to clear the way for early elections, voting 84-0 on a preliminary motion to dissolve itself.

The vote came less than 24 hours after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced the dismissal of rebellious senior coalition partners Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and called for a new electoral mandate.

With little discussion or debate, the MKs approved March 17 as the date for elections, though it will have to be brought for three more readings at the Knesset plenum next week. Assuming smooth passage, the Knesset will then go on recess.

In coming weeks, the parties will be busy organizing themselves for the campaign. Likud will hold chairmanship elections on January 6, and elections for its list will follow. Jewish Home will hold elections on January 5.

The intramural acrimony continued unabated into Wednesday, as Netanyahu responded to Livni’s criticism of his expansion policy over the Green Line as “irresponsible.”

“Well, Livni is the last one who can preach to anyone about responsibility,” he said. “In May of this year she met with Mahmoud Abbas in complete [violation] of the cabinet’s decision not to meet with him at the time, as well as against my explicit order not to hold the meeting. Later, she went on to say, while serving as the Justice minister, ‘Netanyahu’s boycott of Abbas is stupid.’

United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni again refuted Lapid’s claim that Netanyahu has made a back-room deal with the chareidi parties for their support.

“Everyone understands that the coming elections have no connection to the chareidim. Let Yair Lapid explain to the public what he did as Finance Minister and as the head of a party with 19 [Knesset] seats for two years. The chareidi public is not involved in this game.”

The people, added Rabbi Gafni, “have already learned that and will not buy the baseless recycled claims. The man [Lapid] has failed in everything and in every step he took and the people will have their say.”

Lapid went on blaming the prime minister for the coalition breakup, insisting that he could have worked out an agreement to hold the coalition together. This, despite constant sniping at the prime minister in the media from Lapid, Livni and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.

He also accused Netanyahu of being out of touch. “You are disconnected from the rest of the country,” Lapid said, addressing Netanyahu. “You have no idea what this does to the citizens of Israel because you live in your aquarium and no longer know them.”

He predicted that “Binyamin Netanyahu will not form the next government. He made a mistake,” Lapid said. “And the price of this mistake is that he won’t be the prime minister.”

Several Likud MKs rejoindered on Wednesday night: “The panic felt by the failed finance minister does not change the fact that the current elections deal with one issue: Who will be the next prime minister to lead the nation and the country.”

Meanwhile, Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) continued promoting himself for the post: “The people have no faith in this government. We must hold elections as soon as possible and replace the [government]. The Labor Party will lead the bloc that will win the elections and give hope and a new reality to the citizens of Israel.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that while he cannot involve himself in domestic Israeli politics, he hopes that the elections will increase prospects for peace.

“We hope that whatever government is formed is a government that will — or whether there are elections, that those elections will produce — the possibility of a government that can negotiate and move towards resolving the differences between Israelis and Palestinians, and obviously, the differences in the region,” he said while speaking Tuesday at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.