Israel heads to early elections as government coalition dissolves

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel will hold new elections in April after the heads of all six coalition parties announced Monday that they were dissolving the government.

The current government’s term was set to end in November.

“Out of national and budgetary responsibility, the leaders of the coalition parties decided, unanimously and unanimously, to dissolve the Knesset and go to new elections at the beginning of April after a four-year term,” the party heads said in a joint statement, The Times of Israel reported.

The party heads added that “the partnership in the Knesset and in the government will continue during the elections.”

According to Jerusalem Post political correspondent Gil Hoffman, the “coalition heads decided to go to elections at the beginning of April because they couldn’t reach agreement on the ultra-Orthodox enlistment bill” — legislation addressing a judge’s order that could mean that all members of the haredi Orthodox community are subject to the military draft.

Israel had appeared to have narrowly avoided a coalition collapse last month following the resignation of Yisrael Beiteinu party head Avigdor Liberman, the defense minister, and his call for new elections over what he described as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “capitulation to terror” in accepting a cease-fire with Hamas.

With Yisrael Beiteinu out of the government, the coalition led by Netanyahu still had the narrowest of majorities in the 120-member Knesset with 61 seats. Further cracks began to form when Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the Jewish Home party leader, threatened to leave unless he was appointed to replace Liberman. Instead, Netanyahu kept the defense portfolio for himself and Bennett backed down.

Netanyahu is currently in charge of the foreign affairs, defense, health and immigration absorption ministries.

Elections are slated to be held on April 9, Haaretz reported, citing Netanyahu as telling lawmakers that “it’s too difficult [to pass laws]; we need elections.”

The new elections could also forestall American efforts to negotiate a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. The White House is reported to have decided to hold off on launching its peace initiative until after the election.