Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 3.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Politicians from across the political spectrum tried to take advantage of Wednesday’s supermarket stabbing attack to help their nascent campaigns ahead of the election that hours earlier was set for March 17.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein convened party heads Wednesday morning, and they reached a consensus on the date. The Knesset then began the process of dispersing itself, passing a bill to dissolve the parliament 84 to 0 in a preliminary reading.
Another reading passed hours later by a vote of 22 to 0 when most MKs were already out on the campaign trail.
Speaking at an alternative energy summit in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu spoke of the incident and other recent terrorist attacks as proof that Israel needs the broad government led by a large ruling party that he wants to build.
“Because of this [attack], we need a strong and stable government, and so I praise the MKs who answered my request and made the decision to dissolve the Knesset and go to elections in order to bring a strong, stable government as soon as possible for the State of Israel,” he said.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog used the attack as a basis for excoriating Netanyahu at an event in Tel Aviv for young Labor Party activists.
“The citizens of Israel have lost their feeling of personal security,” Herzog said. “That reality is intolerable and unacceptable. The next government, which I will lead, will bring security to the citizens of Israel, hit the terrorists without mercy, and at the same time find a way to open channels of dialogue with the Palestinian Authority based on common interests.”
Herzog was not the only party head to declare himself a candidate for prime minister Wednesday.
At a Tel Aviv press conference, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said Netanyahu would not form the next government.
“He made a mistake and the price of the mistake is that he won’t be prime minister,” Lapid said, referring to Netanyahu’s decision to initiate an election, fire him and dissolve the Knesset.
Lapid faced a fierce attack in the Knesset on Wednesday from his predecessor as finance minister, International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz of the Likud, who told him to go back to being a television host. He slammed Lapid for the deterioration of the country socioeconomically.
“This is what happens when you let a guy whose only qualification is good hair run the economy,” Steinitz said Speculation surfaced about another prime ministerial challenger on the Left. Channel 2 reported that two parties have asked former president and prime minister Shimon Peres whether he was interested in a political comeback. His associates said he responded to the offers by saying he is not entering politics at this stage.
Party heads on the Left took turns attacking Netanyahu.
Hatnua chairwoman Tzipi Livni, whom Netanyahu fired from her post as justice minister on Tuesday, called him an unethical liar.
“Instead of strengthening our connection to the land, it has eroded,” Livni said. “The role of a prime minister is to strengthen, not weaken our right to the country, not to strengthen himself personally.
The reason for the election is not the Balfour Declaration but [the Prime Minister’s Residence on] Balfour Street.”
Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz said he would consider joining another party in order to help end what he called “Netanyahu’s cesarship.”
“I will be anywhere I can to help ensure that Netanyahu is replaced,” he said.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On called on every party head to promise not to join a Netanyahu- led government after the election.
“The message needs to be ‘Anything but Bibi,’” she said.
Niv Elis and Ben Hartman contributed to this report.