What happened: The Knesset was automatically dissolved at midnight last night as the government missed its deadline to pass a budget. The election will be held on March 23, 2021.
- Both coalition partners blamed each other and traded recriminations. Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “This is an erroneous decision on Blue and White’s behalf, but if they force these elections on us, I promise you we will win. With your help, the people of Israel, Likud will bring a huge win.” Netanyahu added: “I’m not afraid of elections… The Israeli public knows who has delivered millions vaccines, four peace agreements, who is stopping Iran, who has delivered security and who is going to rehabilitate the economy with greater momentum.”
- Blue and White leader and Defence Minister Gantz responded: “More lies than words. Netanyahu has pushed us to elections only because he doesn’t want to go to court – anything else is nothing more than spin and trickery. We joined this government in order to protect our democracy. Speeches like [Netanyahu’s] only reconfirm the importance of this process.” Blue and White added in a statement, “A man accused of criminality, with three indictments, is dragging the country to four election campaigns… If there was no trial, there would have been a budget and there wouldn’t be elections.”
- On Monday night there was late night drama as a bill that would have delayed the budget deadline by a further week and allowed further negotiations, failed by 49 votes to 47. Three Blue and White backbenchers voted against the bill, while the rest of the faction were absent for the chamber.
- Likud MK, Michal Shir surprised her own party after she had been reportedly been unwell, she suddenly appeared and also voted against the bill. She later resigned from the party and joined Gideon Saar’s party New Hope.
- In addition, four members of the United Arab List, one of the parties that make up the Joint List, were also absent from the vote. They had already faced severe criticism from their colleagues over their willingness to cooperate with the Likud on other matters.
Context: According to Israeli law a new government has 100 days to pass a budget. In August, a compromise law was passed that extended the deadline for another three months. That deadline finally expired last night.
- In not passing the budget, Netanyahu exploited a loophole in the coalition agreement whereby he is now able to remain prime minister until a new government is sworn in.
- Two polls published last night show that a Netanyahu led Likud appears unable to form a coalition government, despite remaining the largest party. According to the poll on Kan TV, the Likud wins 28 seats, New Hope: 20, Yamina: 15, Yesh Atid-Telem: 13, Joint List: 11, Shas: 8, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) 7, Blue and White: 6, Yisrael Beiteinu: 6, Meretz: 6. On Channel 12 News the Likud receives 29 seats, New Hope 18, Yesh Atid-Telem: 16, Yamina: 13, Joint List: 11, Shas: 8, UTJ: 8, Yisrael Beiteinu: 7, Blue and White: 5, Meretz: 5. In both polls the Labour party, Gesher and Jewish Home fail to pass the 3.25 per cent electoral threshold.
- The networks also asked who is to blame for early elections. On Kan TV 43 per cent blamed Netanyahu, while 18 per cent blamed Gantz. On Channel 12 News 38 per cent blamed Netanyahu and 20 per cent blamed Gantz.
- However when asked who is most suitable to serve as prime minister, according to Channel 12 News: Netanyahu: 33 per cent, Saar: 16 per cent, Lapid: 12 per cent, Bennett: 8 per cent, Gantz: 4 per cent, None of the above: 18 per cent, Don’t know: 9 per cent.
- Former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai are anticipated to both enter the race, although it is unclear if they will join an existing party or form a new one.
Looking ahead: The next six weeks will see the formation of the lists and new alliances as politicians jockey for their places. The party lists need to be submitted by the first week of February.
- After hearing any petitions to disqualify any list or individuals, the Central Elections Committee is scheduled to approve the party lists on February 21.
- In parallel, the evidentiary stage of Netanyahu’s trial on corruption charges in due to start in February.
- The election will be held on March 23, 2021 and the 24th Knesset is scheduled to hold its opening session on April 6, 2021.