It is now all but official: Israeli will head to the polls on Sept. 4th.
After a week of speculation, coalition factions agreed Monday on a date for the elections, guaranteeing a majority for a motion to dissolve the Knesset at next Monday's plenum session.
Shas party chairman Eli Yishai announced on Monday that his faction would like to have the election held as early as possible before the High Holy Days in September. Yisrael Beitenu, Labor and the Independence parties have already indicated their support for dissolving the Knesset. Other parties may join the measure, which requires a legislative majority as it is technically a new law.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is mourning his father who passed away earlier this week, coordinated the move with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud). The dissolution bill, sponsored by Likud faction head MK Ze'ev Elkin, will go through a preliminary reading on Monday, with the final three readings expected the next day.
Opposition leader MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) initially sought to have elections on Oct. 16, citing the summer vacations and the September High Holy Days. Some political analysts believe Mofaz has been reluctant to hold speedy elections because of unfavorable polls. "We have 61 MKs who support the dissolution bill," a source in the government said Wednesday. "The fact that several Knesset factions want to hold elections on a later date is meaningless."
According to a pre-arranged agreement, after the likely passage of the election bill, the Knesset will convene again on Wednesday for a marathon session to approve several government-sponsored bills that have already passed most of the necessary legislative hurdles. MKs will not be allowed to submit new pieces of legislation in this special session.
In light of the new political reality, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu), will not submit his recently proposed "service for all" bill, which is designed to end the military exemptions enjoyed by ultra-Orthodox and Arab youth. Lieberman's measure, which would have undoubtedly rattled the coalition's due to opposition among haredi (ultra-Orthodox) factions, precipitated the march toward early elections.
As a consequence of the Knesset's early dissolution, laws that are set to expire in the interim period until the elections will be automatically renewed. As a result, the controversial Tal Law, which grants ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva students with a waiver from the mandatory military service, will stay in force despite a recent High Court of Justice ruling declaring the law unconstitutional. According to Article 38 of the Basic Law: Knesset, in the four-month period following a decision to dissolve a Knesset, all existing laws remain in effect through the first three months of the next Knesset's term. Any laws scheduled to expire within the four-month period after the Knesset dissolves itself or two months after its official term ends are automatically renewed. Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon cited this provision Wednesday in a written opinion circulated among lawmakers, thus putting on hold any attempts to amend or repeal the law, as the High Court demanded in its ruling.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday Kadima MKs attacked what they called the "artificial media buzz" according to which recently ousted Kadima leader Tzipi Livni will run alongside former TV personality and journalist Yair Lapid.
"Tzipi Livni lost in a democratic primary process," said one Kadima party official. "Any attempt to cajole her into any measures that short-circuit the democratic process is doomed to fail."
Yair Lapid, the former host of the Channel 2 Friday night news magazine, announced his plans to run for office in January but launched his new “There is a Future” party only this week. In a post on his Facebook page several weeks ago, Lapid ruled out a joint run with any incumbent politician. Following Livni's defeat in the primaries on March 27 he reiterated that position by writing on his Facebook wall that "all over the world, when politicians fail, they are replaced with new people with new ideas."
Earlier this week, after Livni announced her resignation from the Knesset, Lapid associates noted that he would not ask her to join his candidate list. "This is not being discussed and it just won't happen," a source close to Lapid said Wednesday.
Kadima MKs have shown consternation over the party's recent slump in the polls that suggest many Kadima MKs may not be able to hold on to their seats. If this trend continues, analysts predict Livni would face mounting pressure to form a new party they could join, as they believe their re-election prospects would be helped by being associated with a Livni ticket.
Mofaz, who beat Livni by almost 30 percentage points in the primaries, has recently held talks with MKs loyal to his long-time rival to pre-empt any defections. He also plans to meet with Livni to persuade her to remain in the party. In their meeting on April 24, Mofaz asked her whether she would like to have the second place slot on the party's Knesset candidate slate, but in light of criticism from his fellow party MKs who had accused him of not doing enough to win over Livni, he is likely to go even further in this second meeting.
The Mofaz campaign has been rocked this week by the news that the opposition leader's top strategists from Pe'er and Levin Consulting plan to resign and work for competing parties. The conventional wisdom in Kadima is that professional disagreements with Mofaz and his strategic adviser Lior Horev led to the parting of ways.
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) attacked Kadima MKs Wednesday for allegedly trying to postpone the elections in light of their low standing in the polls. "Have you heard of any other country in the democratic world where the opposition tries to stave off early elections?" Sa'ar asked the opposition members at the Knesset plenum. "I see you roaming the hallways trying to have the elections put off until the High Holy Days are over. You are unprepared, even after three and a half years in the opposition -- what went wrong?"
MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) gave a surprising response, challenging the coalition to vote against the early elections bill. "I want to see whether you, the coalition members, can act responsibly and vote against the dissolution of the Knesset. I dare you to do that." Laughing, Sa'ar muttered, "Unbelievable, unbelievable."
Meanwhile, Yair Lapid met with Quartet Representative Tony Blair Wednesday, in an apparent effort to shore up his foreign policy credentials. Lapid reportedly told Blair Israelis and Palestinians had to resume the peace process.