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Israel to vote again as coalition crumbles?

December 2, 2020

Voting 61-54, Israel's parliament has forwarded a dissolution bill to committee stages that could ultimately trigger fresh elections. Defense minister Benny Gantz's Blue and White party voted with the opposition.

Combo photo: left segment shows Benny Gantz, right half shows Benjamin Netanyahu, both pictured on May 17, 2020, when the current national unity government was sworn in at the Knesset parliament. (Both photos originally from AFP)

Israel's Blue and White party, partners in a rather fractious national unity government since Maysided with the Knesset's opposition on Wednesday in a votto dissolve parliament, although the bill still needs to go through further deliberations to become law. 

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz had accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party of failing to submit a budget as promised in their original coalition deal to share power and alternate the premiership. 

The dissolution bill next heads to a parliamentary committee, giving Gantz and Netanyahu a week or two to try to salvage their troubled alliance. 

During debate on Wednesday, Yair Lapid, whose opposition Yesh Atid party pushed for dissolution, accused Israel's current center-right government of gross mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic fallout. 

Read more:   Israel's second coronavirus lockdown sows division

In a speech on Tuesday, Gantz said he had formed the coalition with Netanyahu seven months ago because he wanted to spare Israelis "an ugly and costly" fourth election within less than two years, not least considering that the coronavirus pandemic was spreading.

Claiming that he always knew the Likud leader to be a "serial promise-breaker," Gantz told Israelis: "Netanyahu didn't lie to me, he lied to all of you."  

"Netanyahu committed to pass a budget in August, and naturally did not stand by his word. He promised it would happen in December and is not following through," said Gantz. 

'Time for unity,' says Netanyahu 

Netanyahu, meanwhile, on Tuesday urged Gantz to keep the coalition together: "Now is not the time for elections now is the time for unity." 

Political columnist Amit Segal in a commentary on Israel's N12 website said Gantz risked being seen by voters as no longer an effective anti-Netanyahu force. 

Blue and White "can only expect a nightmarishly difficult election campaign," Segal said. 

Read more:  Israel: Ultra-Orthodox communities top coronavirus hot spots

Control loss 

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said citizens shared "the feeling that they lost control over their lives." 

The lack of budget for 2020 has contributed to hardships and cutbacks for Israelis amid unemployment estimated at over 20% because of the pandemic. 

Under their coalition deal, Netanyahu serves as prime minister until November 2021, with the job rotating to Gantz for 18 months after that.

ipj/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)