Israel has moved closer to holding a new general election despite a national vote last month, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struggles to form a coalition government ahead of a Wednesday deadline.
The parliament on Monday passed a preliminary motion to dissolve itself. If the bill gets final approval in a vote scheduled on Wednesday, then Israel would be forced to hold a new election.
Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, has until 21:00 GMT on Wednesday to put a government together, after being delegated the task by President Reuven Rivlin following the April 9 election.
In a televised address following the initial vote in parliament, Netanyahu pledged to continue pursuing coalition talks and said a new vote would be unnecessary and costly.
“A lot can be done in 48 hours,” he said. “The voters’ wishes can be respected, a strong right-wing government can be formed.”
In power for the past decade and facing potential corruption indictments, Netanyahu has struggled to seal an agreement with a clutch of right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that would ensure him a fifth term.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and is due to argue against the attorney general’s intention to indict him on fraud and bribery charges at a pre-trial hearing in October.
US President Donald Trump weighed in on Netanyahu’s political woes on Monday.
“Hoping things will work out with Israel’s coalition formation and Bibi and I can continue to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever,” Trump tweeted, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “A lot more to do!”
Although a second national election in the same year would pose new political risks for Netanyahu, it would pre-empt Rivlin from assigning coalition-building to another legislator once Wednesday’s deadline expires.
Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has prevented a deal by refusing to budge from a key demand – and he showed no sign of backing down on Monday.
Netanyahu sought to place full blame on Lieberman, who rejected the assertion.
“There’s no reason to drag the country to unnecessary elections that will cost a fortune and paralyse us all for another half a year,” Netanyahu said in his address in which he also referenced Trump’s tweet.
Lieberman said he had already made concessions and was not prepared to go further, adding he was ready for a new election if needed.
The former defence minister is seeking a guarantee that legislation he supports aimed at having ultra-Orthodox Jews perform mandatory military service like other Jewish Israelis be approved without changes.
His party controls five seats in parliament and Netanyahu needs his support for the coalition he is seeking.
“It’s a matter of principle,” Lieberman told journalists, calling Netanyahu’s inability to form a government a “huge, unprecedented failure.”
The issue of military service for ultra-Orthodox Jews is a highly sensitive one in Israeli politics and the bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, who control 16 seats in parliament and are also slated to form part of Netanyahu’s coalition.
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