Election prevention bill fails, Israel headed to elections on March 23

New election nears as talks between Gantz and Prime Minister Netanyahu collapse over new demands by defense minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, as it disperses, sending Israel into elections in March, December 22, 2020.  (photo credit: KNESSET SPOKESPERSON/DANI SHEM TOV)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, as it disperses, sending Israel into elections in March, December 22, 2020.
A bill proposed to avoid Knesset dispersal and the fourth elections over the last two years has failed to pass on Monday night, sealing Israel's fate.
47 MKs voted for the bill, while 49 voted against. The 23rd Knesset will disperse tomorrow at 12 p.m.
As a result, a vote to disperse the Knesset will take place in the next 24 hours, which came following long-standing disagreements between Likud and Blue and White regarding the rotation of the premiership, along with the role of Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and a myriad of other issues. 
Shortly after the vote, Likud MK Michal Shir announced that she would be joining Gideon Sa'ar's New Hope party. 
"I am at peace with my decision to do the least I can to end this embarrassing show of a stuck and conflicted government which is holding an entire country hostage for political seats, and therefore I will resign from the Knesset and join 'New Hope' led by Gideon Sa’ar," Shir said on Twitter.
Prior to the vote, Gantz called Netanyahu on Monday with upgraded demands for preventing a March 23 election.
The list included preventing harm to the rule of law, approving all key appointments, passing the 2020 and 2021 state budgets and closing all loopholes that would prevent Gantz from becoming prime minister next November.
The legislation, which was brought to a vote in the Knesset plenum late Monday night, would delay the deadline for passing the 2020 state budget from Tuesday night until December 31 and set the deadline for passing the 2021 state budget for January 5.
“I regret that the prime minister is preoccupied with his trial and not the public interest, and is prepared to drag the entire country into a period of uncertainty, instead of ensuring economic stability and a rehabilitation of the economy,” Gantz said. 
“If Likud won’t meet our demands, we will head to elections with our head held high, having put Israel before everything else, and let the voters decide,” Gantz said at the time. 
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of Blue and White added that “no democracy in the world would tolerate its prime minister holding its budget hostage, and Israel will not either.”
The Likud responded to Gantz’s ultimatum by saying that he had withdrawn from all his previous commitments on legal issues, in a failed attempt to seek votes for his disintegrating party.
“We’ve been working hard on preventing unnecessary elections,” Netanyahu said during a meeting with White House special advisor Jared Kushner on Monday.
“We reached agreements with Blue and White,” he said. “They made promises, good agreements that would have allowed us to prevent this round of elections. Unfortunately, due to internal pressure from within his party, Gantz decided to change his mind – and this thing is dragging the entire country to unnecessary elections during the coronavirus pandemic.”
Blue and White faced unprecedented infighting on Monday, as officials close to Gantz said Nissenkorn caused the party significant damage.
A bill that would postpone the deadline for passing the budget and prevent early elections from being initiated passed in the Knesset House Committee by a seven to five vote on Monday afternoon. Even before Gantz’s ultimatum to Netanyahu, passing the bill into law by Tuesday night’s deadline would have been a challenge, due to rebellions in Blue and White and Likud, and further complicated by MKs suffering from COVID-19. Ultimately, the bill failed to pass. 
The House Committee’s legal adviser Sagit Afek said it would not need a special majority beyond 61 MKs to pass in the plenum, but she also suggested that the January 5 deadline may be impossible to achieve and perhaps illegal.
EVEN OBTAINING a simple majority would have been difficult for the coalition – numbering 69 MKs – following the departure of Derech Eretz MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser and Likud-Kulanu MK Yifat Shasha-Biton to the New Hope Party of former Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar.
Three coalition MKs have been diagnosed with COVID-19: David Bitan (Likud), Yakov Asher (United Torah Judaism) and Hila Shay Vazan (Blue and White).
There are at least two MKs remaining in Likud who could defect to Sa’ar’s party soon, and as many as five MKs in Blue and White could end up opposing the bill.
Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh wrote on Twitter that elections were urgently needed. She said she could not guarantee that she would run with Blue and White in the next election.
“I supported entering the unity government out of responsibility for the citizens of Israel,” she wrote. “That same responsibility requires me now to consider the bad option of elections and compare it to the intolerable reality of a government that does not function and violates the rules of the game, including misusing Basic Laws. The time has come to return to the people, who are sovereign in a democracy, and ask them to make a decision.”
Blue and White MKs Asaf Zamir, Ram Shefa and Miki Haimovich opposed the deal as well.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid reached out to his former allies in Blue and White at a meeting of his Yesh Atid faction.
“Anyone who votes for this horrible deal is voting against putting Israel back on track, against values and principles of our democracy, against the very idea of decency,” Lapid warned them. “Especially today I want to remind the people of Israel – it doesn’t have to be this way. We can have an efficient, fair, honest government. A sane government which will get up every morning and work to make your lives better.”
Lapid said Gantz and his allies collapsed because they thought “politics is a game played by crooks and so they need to become crooks as well.”
“I call upon my friends in Blue and White: Don’t do it,” he said. “Restore some of your pride, because things can be different.”
Sa’ar lashed out at the deal that Netanyahu and Gantz reached on Sunday to delay the deadline to pass the state budget and prevent early elections. Mocking a classic statement by Netanyahu, Sa’ar said that they were trying to postpone elections, because “they are a-f-r-a-i-d” of him.
“The government was formed more than seven months ago, and they still have not gotten around to bringing the budget for a vote,” Sa’ar said. “Now they want to pass a budget within a week.
 “There has never been a government that did more to shame the Knesset, mock the citizens and harm our democracy than the current one,” he said. “Israeli citizens deserve to have a government that puts the good of its citizens first.”