JERUSALEM— Israel’s parliament on Wednesday approved a preliminary vote to dissolve itself, putting the country on the verge of an unprecedented third election in a 12-month period while giving scandal-plagued Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a welcome break as he fights to save his political career.
After months of political deadlock following a September election, lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the first of three votes required to dissolve the parliament and set a March 2 date for new elections. Two more readings were scheduled later Wednesday. Lawmakers had faced a midnight deadline that would have automatically dissolved parliament and set elections later in March.
A new campaign would prolong a year-long political stalemate that has paralyzed the government and undermined public trust in the government. For the third time in the past year, the country now appears to be heading to what is sure to be a nasty three-month political campaign that according to recent opinion polls is expected to deliver very similar results.
In September’s vote, Netanyahu’s Likud party and the rival Blue and White party both were unable to secure a parliamentary majority. Netanyahu and Blue and White’s leader, former military commander Benny Gantz, both failed during officially mandated periods to cobble together a governing coalition. Then, during a final three-week window that ended Wednesday, they were unable to agree on a power-sharing agreement that would have avoided another vote.
Both men had insisted they want to avoid another costly election campaign. And together, their parties control a solid majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
But neither was willing to compromise on their core demands for a unity government. Netanyahu insisted on serving as prime minister, where he is best positioned to fight his recent indictment on a series of corruption charges. Gantz has refused to serve under a prime minister with such serious legal problems and called on Likud to choose a different leader.
Given the divisions in Israeli society, and the deep mistrust between the opposing camps, there appears to be little hope that another vote will break the loop of elections and instability that has rocked the country for the past year. In the recent campaigns, the candidates have launched deep personal attacks on one another, and Netanyahu has been accused of inciting against the country’s Arab minority.