After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government before a midnight deadline, Israel’s parliament voted early Thursday to dissolve itself and then set a new election date for Sept. 17.
There was no sign of a breakthrough earlier Wednesday in the Israeli leader’s talks with former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose five-seat bloc in the 120-member Knesset is crucial to Netanyahu’s efforts to gain a controlling majority.
Netanyahu has refused to meet Lieberman’s demand that ultra-Orthodox Jews be subject to conscription into the Israeli military as other Israeli Jews are, rather than exempted as they have been.
“Everything stands in the same place where it was,” Lieberman said.
Early Thursday, Netanyahu said he was confident his conservative Likud party would win the snap Israeli election.
“We will run a sharp, clear election campaign, which will bring us victory. We will win, we will win and the public will win,” Netanyahu said after the parliamentary vote.
The new election date will come just seven weeks after an early April vote appeared to leave Netanyahu in a strong position to form a new government and to become prime minister for a fifth time and the country’s longest-serving leader.
The new vote would have been averted had Netanyahu and Lieberman, sometimes allies and often rivals through the years, reached a last-minute accord, or if President Reuven Rivlin had been able to form a new government, possibly ending the 69-year-old Netanyahu’s hopes of remaining the Israeli leader.
Likud had enough votes to push through a dissolution of parliament, requiring a new election, to keep Rivlin from tapping another lawmaker to try to form a government.
Netanyahu is also facing the possibility of indictment on bribery, fraud and breach-of-trust charges in the coming months and had been hopeful that a new parliament would approve legislation granting him immunity.
His wife, Sara, reached a plea bargain herself on Wednesday in a separate corruption case, agreeing to pay $15,215 in a reimbursement and a fine for spending almost $100,000 in state funds on catered meals at the prime minister’s residence while concealing the fact that the residence also employed a cook.
The political impasse in Jerusalem came as U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Jason Greenblatt, both presidential advisers, were in Amman, meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II about efforts to resolve the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Jordan has stood by its support for a two-state solution, while Washington has lately has been trying to woo support for economic investment in Israeli-controlled Palestinian territories as a way of improving the well-being of Palestinians.
Late June meeting
Jordan has not yet said whether it will attend the June 25-26 meeting in Manama, capital of the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, where Kushner plans to offer an economic plan, but no details for any political solution or Palestinian statehood. The Palestinians have already said they will not attend the meeting and have rejected the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan.
After the April Israeli elections, Likud emerged tied as the largest bloc in the 120-member parliament, but with traditional minor party allies appeared to be in control with a solid 65-55 majority. But without Lieberman’s bloc of five lawmakers in the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Netanyahu cannot reach a Knesset majority.
“The draft law has become a symbol, and we will not capitulate on our symbols,” Lieberman said.
Ultra-Orthodox parties consider military conscription a violation of their religious beliefs, fearing that military service will lead to secularization. But such exemptions from military service are widely resented by other Jewish Israelis.
Some Likud adherents say that Lieberman is motivated by his personal spite for Netanyahu, but Lieberman says he will not give in to religious coercion.
“I will not be a partner to a Halachic state,” he said, using the word for Jewish law.