The Knesset dispersal bill proposed by MK Miki Zohar passed the first reading at the Knesset on Monday night with 66 in favor and 44 against, with one abstention.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to do everything possible to build a new governing coalition in the next 48 hours and avoid going to a September 17 election.That was the date set for the next election by the special committee that legislated the bill to disperse the Knesset.
In a speech at the Knesset, Netanyahu forcefully criticized Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, whose long-awaited meeting with the prime minister on Monday evening ended after 22 minutes, leaving little remaining hope of building a coalition by Wednesday night’s deadline and avoiding an election. Netanyahu said Liberman needed to accept a compromise that the prime minister had worked out on the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription bill.
“There is no reason to paralyze the country for another year and a half and waste billions when there is a solution [to the dispute over the conscription bill],” Netanyahu said. “For semantics, you don’t go to elections. It can be solved in two minutes.”
In response, Liberman told Netanyahu on Twitter: “These are not merely cosmetic changes but a surrender to the haredim,” and reiterated his demand to pass the conscription bill as is, with no changes.
The prime minister responded to Liberman’s tweet by telling Likud ministers to “open fire on Liberman” after earlier telling them to hold back.
Netanyahu spoke to the Knesset while it was debating creating a special committee to legislate to disperse itself and hold another election. The bill passed a preliminary reading by a 65-43 vote with six abstentions, after the Knesset’s Organizing Committee allowed the vote to take place by waiving the required 45-day minimum after it was proposed. The bill must still pass two more readings.
In a faction meeting earlier on Monday, Liberman promised that his party will support the bill to disperse the Knesset and not back another candidate to form a coalition.
Liberman rejected the Likud’s allegations that he has refused to join Netanyahu’s government for personal reasons. He said his party’s view on the haredi conscription bill has been consistent since February 2018.
“Everyone with a brain understands that our view is principled, not revenge or anything else,” he said. “I have never seen someone who won an election so convincingly not reach an agreement with any party. They are trying to take the easy way out and blame it on me. If Likud wants to blame someone, they should look in the mirror.”
Liberman said the coalition Netanyahu is building with United Torah Judaism and Shas is not a right-wing government but a government of Jewish law.
“What is right-wing about responding to 700 rockets by upgrading the money given to Hamas from NIS 15 to 30 million?” said the former defense minister.
Liberman noted that he supported Netanyahu, and agreed that he should remain prime minister if indicted, enabling him to expand the cabinet and the Likud candidate for comptroller.
He denied any conspiracy with Blue and White’s No. 2 Yair Lapid, a conspiracy he called “science fiction.” Liberman also said Yisrael Beytenu would keep the same Knesset candidates and not run together with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Liberman said an election would be cheaper than the coalition agreements signed with the other parties would have been. He also noted Tuesday, August 27, was a bad day for elections, because families are abroad for summer vacation.
The lead headline in the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom that called Liberman a fraud on Monday upset Liberman, who called the paper “less objective than Pravda in the days of Stalin.” He said the newspaper was a sign that Netanyahu had no intention of compromising.
The Likud responded to Liberman’s charges saying that if he joined the government, all the agreements with the other parties were ready, so he should sign immediately.
Liberman dismissed the Likud’s response as political spin.
A Midgam poll broadcast on Monday on Channel 13 found that in the general public, 41% blame Netanyahu for elections, 27% blame Liberman, 16% the haredi parties, and 16% do not know.
But among self-defined right-wingers, 50% blame Liberman, 26% Netanyahu, 14% haredim and 10% do not know.