September 17 Chosen as Date for New Elections

YERUSHALAYIM -
Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman seen arriving at the office of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu before a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset, on Monday. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu works to avert new elections – he has until Wednesday at midnight to form a government – the Knesset was preparing to dissolve itself, in case Netanyahu is unable to succeed. After the Knesset early Tuesday morning passed on its first reading a law to disperse itself, a special committee, appointed as a result of the bill, set the date for new elections on September 17. That date was chosen over the previously proposed August 27 date, when it was likely that many voters would be out of the country on their summer vacations, increasing the likelihood of a very low vote turnout.

Sixty-six MKs voted for the bill – including all members of Yisrael Beytenu – while 44 voted against and 5 abstained.

On Tuesday, meanwhile, the Likud was planning to take a vote of its central committee to skip over the primary process for the next election, and preserve the Likud list as it is, with some adjustments. Those adjustments, media reports said, were to accommodate Kulanu, which will be absorbed into the Likud. According to the reports, Kulanu MKs will have three places within the top 20 on the Likud list reserved for them – with the number 2 slot on the list reserved for Moshe Kahlon.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is leaving no stone unturned in efforts to convince Avigdor Liberman to accept the Likud’s proposal for a compromise on the draft bill, the issue that Liberman claims will not allow him to join the current coalition. Netanyahu called for Liberman to relent in an address broadcast during the evening news, but immediately after that he headed for the studios of Channel 9, Israel’s largest Russian-language broadcaster, hoping to convince Liberman’s constituents to lean on the Yisrael Beytenu head to back down from his opposition to the deal.

Likud MKs were also given an all-clear signal to “open fire” on Liberman in the media, in an effort to pressure him into backing down. In an interview with Yediot Acharonot Tuesday, Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi said that “a small party that received just a few seats is clutching an entire nation by the throat. They got just five seats and are taking advantage of the fact that there is no majority coalition without them. This is what happens when you have small parties. If there are elections I appeal to everyone not to waste their vote on a small party, to prevent them from harming the public good in order to propagate their personal agendas.”

At the same time, Netanyahu is working to reason with Liberman. Likud negotiators on Monday night met with former Shas minister Ariel Attias and members of the staff of Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman to discuss “new ideas” to resolve the issues with Liberman.

Likud officials said that the meetings went “well,” and that new ideas were generated – but that they were not sufficient to prevent elections. Likud officials are also reaching out to Israeli businessman Shmuel Hayek, a close confidant and supporter of Liberman. The Likud is hoping to use his relationship with Liberman to convince him to back down from his stance.