With only hours to go until the final deadline to form a government in Israel runs out, chances of a third election within a year looked all but unavoidable on Wednesday as lawmakers continue to deadlock.
The two largest parties in Israel’s 120-seat parliament – caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White – have agreed on March 2 as the date for the third election if no last-minute agreement on a governing coalition is reached before the deadline at midnight (2200 GMT).
The parliament will pass legislation on the election date on Wednesday, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein has said.
A third election within under a year is unprecedented in Israel and attests to the intensity of the political stalemate in the country.
While Netanyahu has failed twice to form a majority coalition in the wake of April 9 and Sept. 17 elections, Gantz has failed once.
Netanyahu has insisted on staying in office for at least another six months, while Gantz has declined to sit with the Likud so long as Netanyahu, who stands accused of corruption, remains prime minister.
Netanyahu, Gantz, and kingmaker Avigdor Liberman, of the far-right, secular Yisrael Beiteinu party, have pointed their fingers at each other for the failure.
Almost three years after the corruption allegations surfaced, Israel’s attorney general announced last month that Netanyahu would be the country’s first sitting prime minister to be indicted.
The 70-year-old faces charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust for allegedly offering political favours in return for more positive press coverage and helping out wealthy business contacts in return for expensive gifts.
He has until Jan. 1, 2020 to ask lawmakers to vote for granting him immunity, as a Knesset member, against criminal charges.
Although Netanyahu is undeniably under pressure, there has been no open revolt against him in the Likud or the public.
Only one leading Likud member, former education minister Gideon Saar, has announced that he will challenge the prime minister for the party leadership.
Judging by opinion polls, the indictment announcement has not decimated support for “Bibi” among Likud members or voters, nor is there an immediate end in sight to the paralyzing ie between the right-wing religious and center-left blocs in the Knesset.