Israel is taking the first step towards new elections

JERUSALEM – Israel on Wednesday came closer to another early election, the fourth in two years after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reluctant coalition partners joined the opposition in a preliminary vote to overthrow the unity government in which they serve.

The bill marked a period of new political instability and upheaval for the 120-person Knesset, that is, the dispersal of parliament and the move to new elections, despite the fact that the government did not fall immediately. The motion was approved by 61 to 54, in the absence of five legislators, but now he has to go to committee and have three more readings before it can become law.

In any case, if the state budget is not adopted by December 23, the Knesset will automatically disband and elections will be scheduled for the end of March. Mr Netanyahu has so far refused to accept the 2020 budget or submit it by 2021.

The emergency coalition government apparently was formed to combat the public health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus epidemic. Instead, in the midst of a struggle for long-delayed approval of public finances, it has been largely paralyzed, while the appointment of key vacancies in government and the public sector has been frozen.

“These past months have been difficult,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said in his speech introducing the bill. “They weren’t hard just because of the health crisis.” They were difficult not only because of the economic disaster. They were difficult because of the depth of the failure of this government.

The government took an oath barely six months ago after three convincing elections ended without any candidates being able to win a parliamentary majority. Finally, Mr. Netanyahu, on behalf of the conservative Likud party, persuaded his main rival, Benny Gantz, a former army chief and leader of the centrist Blue and White party, to unite with him in the unity government.

Mr Gantz, who made an election promise by joining Mr Netanyahu’s government and has since lost public support, voted to dissolve it on Wednesday.

Israel is just emerging from its second national quarantine, but with infections rising again, health experts have already warned of a third.

For months, Israeli analysts have predicted that Mr Netanyahu will support early elections, rather than Mr Gantz taking over as prime minister in a year’s time, as required by their coalition agreement. Few, including Mr. Gantz, expected this to actually happen.

Likud lawmakers have openly stated that Mr. Gantz no longer commands enough public support to be able to hold the office of prime minister.

As the trial of corruption allegations is expected to enter the evidentiary phase in February, Mr Netanyahu insists on power to fight the case to the advantage of high office. A new election can strengthen your position.

Recent opinion polls put Likud firmly at the forefront and indicate that Mr. Netanyahu may even form a right-wing religious coalition that could grant him immunity from criminal proceedings.

The opposition would embark on an election campaign weakly and torn apart.

Mr Gantz and Mr Netanyahu blamed each other for the coalition crisis.

“Netanyahu didn’t lie to me – he lied to all of you,” Mr. Gantz said in an angry television speech Tuesday night. – He didn’t lead me astray. He led the whole nation astray.

He added: “Netanyahu is on the path to personal survival. The only indicator of decision-making is relevant to the ability to avoid negotiation, which is just around the corner. “

THE video statement released shortly before Mr Gantz’s speech, Mr Netanyahu said: “I have long said that this is not the time for elections, but the time for unity.” He accused Mr Gantz of “creating a government within the government”.

Despite voting with the opposition to overthrow the government, Mr Gantz left the door open for the deal, saying the government would be saved if the budget was adopted by the 23 December deadline.

Some lawmakers say negotiations are under way to form an alternative government without elections, although the chances of any other coalition forming and leading to a majority in Parliament are slim.

In a difficult world of Israeli politics, Wednesday’s votes by Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz do not necessarily indicate their true position.

Mr Netanyahu is seeking elections but voted against a bill to disperse Parliament, wary of being accused of early voting, said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israeli Institute for Democracy, an impartial research organization in Jerusalem. Mr Gantz voted for this, although he was afraid of the election, Mr Plesner added.

Mr. Gantz has “run into a conflict of interest,” Mr. Plesner said because he did not want to show any more weakness by obeying Mr. Netanyahu. By voting against Mr Plesner’s own government, Mr Gantz “crossed the threshold”.