Israel ended months of stalemate in the Knesset today as the parliament voted to fire itself, admitting that irreconciliable differences have neutralized any hope of productive work or operative solution to the multitude of issues facing the country. The lawmakers voted 93-0 to dissolve the governing body and hold early elections in March 2015. The motion passed with no objections on the third reading after several hours of discussion, denunciation and calls for a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of key issues.
Left-wing Hadash party lawyer and Member of Knesset (MK) Dov Khenin characterized Netanyahu’s government as “bad and dangerous,” blaming them for stonewalling any chance at solving the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict. There were also blatant critiques of Netanyahu’s handling of national security in regards to allegations of using Syrian airstrikes as a diversionary tactic to hide the governmental chaos. Jamal Zahalka, a Israeli-Arab member of the Knesset leveled accusations that the Prime Minister and his ministers were criminally responsible for thousands of Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip.
The hotly-contested Jewish statehood bill, a budget proposal, a housing tax break as well as the long standing violent conflicts with their Palestinian and Arab neighbors and the perpetual lack of an effective and lasting peace agreement has fired deep-rooted quarrels among the ministers of Israel’s several parties, both in the Knesset and in Netanyahu’s cabinet. The 19th Knesset began their terms in early 2013 already divided against itself over the issues facing Israel. The resulting political gridlock has prevented the ruling council from taking any effective action in the nearly two years they have been in office.
Netanyahu fired his top two ministers, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, last week for actively undermining his authority and perpetual bickering that made it impossible to run the government effectively, he said. At the same time, he called for moving up the elections to mid-term, in March 2015 and laid the groundwork for dissolution of the Knesset, a measure taken when Israel’s governing body is so fraught with dispute that it cannot effectively carry out the function of government.
Yuli Edelstein, Knesset Speaker spoke briefly before the last vote, warning the members that when ideological differences become personal feuds, they can short circuit any cooperative effort and render government impotent to do its job. Although he acknowledged that early elections are not the most desirable solution and produce surprise and resentment in the eyes of the voting public, in certain circumstances, they are the lesser of the evils facing the beleaguered nation. MKs Yaacov Litzman and Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party agree that the dissolution is a relief to ultra-Orthodox Jews who have suffered great hostility from this Knesset, who they blame for short sightedness in finding housing solution, rising living costs, economic collapse and hardship on the middle class. UTJ has set its sights on reviving respect for the Torah and renewing esteem for its students.
In spite of the conspicuous dissension within the ranks of Israeli government, several public opinion polls taken last week show that Netanyahu still has a decent chance of staying in office when the elections come in March, 99 days from today. Even with low approval ratings, results show that he would still be able to pull together a new coalition sympathetic to his Palestinian policies. However, there is also a growing movement to depose the Prime Minister, his proposal to lower food taxes notwithstanding. Livni and Lapid, the two fired ministers plan to meet and consider the possibility of their parties forming an alliance. With Knesset making the move official to step down, admit its weaknesses and fire itself, Israel has a chance to reset the players, change the playing field and move past the stalemate that has been paralyzing the country’s politics for months.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Photo courtesy of James Emery – Flickr License