Israel govt collapses, to hold fourth election in two years

Israel’s parliament dissolved on Wednesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fractured ruling coalition failed to pass a budget, prompting a fourth election in two years and renewing an unprecedented political crisis.

The coalition led by Netanyahu and his former election rival, Defence Minister Benny Gantz, had been moving towards collapse for weeks, undermined by mutual hostility and mistrust.

Netanyahu has been facing public anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and while he is engaged in a corruption trial, the first against an Israeli prime minister. Netanyahu, who has denied any criminal wrongdoing, and the current defence minister, centrist politician Benny Gantz, established a unity government in May after three inconclusive elections held since April 2019.

But they have been locked in a dispute over the passage of a national budget, the key to implementing a deal in which Gantz was to have taken over from Netanyahu in November 2021. A new election means that “rotation” will never happen.

The dissolution of parliament, the Knesset, could see elections held as early as March 23, likely forcing Netanyahu to seek re-election while the coronavirus pandemic is still raging and as his long-awaited corruption trial intensifies.

Some political analysts said Netanyahu had hoped to use the budget dispute to force an election that would get him out of the power-sharing deal with Gantz. But they said he had preferred a ballot in May or June when a vaccination campaign now underway could bring him more voters.

Netanyahu will remain prime minister until a new government is formed after the March election. Now 71, he first served in the post from 1996 to 1999 and has held the office since 2009.