The Knesset missed its deadline to nominate a candidate for prime minister, officially launching a third election in less than a year overnight Wednesday.
Debate in the Knesset continued on a bill that would have the election be held on March 2 instead of the automatic date, March 10, which is the Jewish holiday of Purim.
The 21-day period in which the Knesset had the mandate to choose someone to form a government came to a close at midnight Wednesday.
Almost no negotiations took place during the day, with last-ditch efforts to form a government abandoned earlier in the week, but MKs took the time to blame one another for the situation.In a video posted online in the evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Blue and White “wants to hide the fact that they did everything to avoid establishing a broad national unity government that would annex the Jordan Valley, apply Israeli sovereignty on the settlements in Judea and Samaria.“They tried to do everything to establish a minority government with the terror supporters [Joint List MKs] Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi, and they failed at that, too,” he said. “They forced new elections on us. It is unnecessary and in order to avoid it happening again there is one thing to do and that is to win, and win big – and that is what we’ll do.”Blue and White co-chairman MK Yair Lapid said from the plenum’s stage that the reasons for this election are bribery, fraud and breach of trust, the charges on which Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit seeks to indict Netanyahu.Elections, which “used to be a celebration of democracy have become a moment of shame for this building,” Lapid lamented.Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said he was “zero percent” responsible for the situation and that Likud and Blue and White, who constitute a majority on their own, shoulder the blame.Earlier in the day, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz repeated his party’s call for Netanyahu to give up on his right to request immunity from prosecution from the Knesset.“We will be going to a third election cycle today because of Netanyahu’s attempt to obtain immunity. We must stand in opposition of this...There is no room for immunity” in Netanyahu’s case, he said at a conference held at the Knesset on the topic of rule of law.Still, some in Likud reportedly called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give up on his right to ask the Knesset for immunity from prosecution on charges of corruption, in order to call Gantz’s bluff.Likud’s spokesman denied that Netanyahu is considering the idea, shooting back that Blue and White is on a “political spin spree after they sabotaged a unity government in every way possible and failed to establish a minority government with [Joint List MKs] Ahmed Tibi and Ayman Odeh.”Tibi and Odeh said throughout the day that they think the Joint List will win more than its current 13 seats in an election.“If there's one party that's not afraid of elections it's the Joint List,” Tibi said.In Netanyahu’s eyes, “my friends have turned into ISIS because the man has simply lost it,” Tibi added. “He has no ammunition other than lies and spins and incitement. Does he deserve to be prime minister for even one more minute? If he is holding on to his seat and doesn't want to release it, we will help him in the upcoming election.”Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz said Blue and White should stop talking about Netanyahu giving up his immunity as a way to restart talks, because it gives people false hope."Stop these useless contacts that amount only to a blame game for the third election," Peretz said. "The public has had its say and blames Netanyahu and Liberman. There is no reason to accept Netanyahu's offer to remain prime minister for a number of months [in a rotation for the premiership.]”Peretz said he would ask all the party leaders in his camp to sign a pact not to attack each other during the election. Despite the constant laments from across the political spectrum that the lack of a government has prevented essential services from being funded, MKs managed to add NIS 62 million to the budget funding their parties' election campaigns within a few hours on Wednesday.The only MK to vote against the increase was Oded Forrer of Yisrael Beytenu."I don't understand how the people sitting here can look the public in the eye," he said.MKs from Shas, which said earlier in the week that they would oppose the increase, voted in favor.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.