Israel to hold fresh election as Netanyahu fails to form coalition

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to the plenum at the KnessetImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Netanyahu was returned to power after elections only last month

Israeli lawmakers have voted to dissolve parliament after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government.

The vote triggered a fresh election, which will be held on 17 September.

Mr Netanyahu was unable to reach a deal for a fresh right-wing coalition following last month's election.

At the heart of the impasse was a military conscription bill governing exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students.

It is the first time in Israel's history that a prime minister-designate has failed to form a coalition.

Parliament voted 74-45 in favour of dissolving itself after Mr Netanyahu missed a midnight local time (21:00 GMT) deadline on Wednesday.

Why did coalition talks fail?

Mr Netanyahu entered negotiations to form a coalition government after his Likud Party won 35 of the Knesset's 120 seats in April's election, setting him up for a fifth term in office.

But he clashed with former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose support in the talks became vital.

Mr Lieberman, from the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, had made it a condition of allying with ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that they change their military draft exemptions.

Mr Netanyahu pushed for new elections to prevent Israeli President Reuven Rivlin selecting another member of parliament to try to form a government.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Mr Netanyahu said: "We'll run a sharp, clear election campaign which will bring us victory. We'll win, we'll win and the public will win."

In little more than six weeks since they were elected, Israeli MPs voted by a significant margin on Wednesday to dissolve parliament.

The decision came after talks failed to find a breakthrough in a longstanding dispute between ultra-Orthodox and secular wings of Mr Netanyahu's right-wing block - despite increasingly desperate attempts by the Israeli leader to bridge the gap.

He even reportedly offered ministerial posts to opponents from the Israeli left; which they declined.

As the clock ticked towards midnight, Mr Netanyahu's party accused his old political rival, Mr Lieberman, of trying to eliminate the prime minister due to a lust for power.

But Mr Lieberman dug his heels in, refusing to shift his position.

The news exposes the growing political weakness for the premier, and his political rivals appear well aware of his vulnerability; some may even be jockeying for position, sensing his decade in office may be entering its closing stages.

What happens next?

Mr Netanyahu - who is on course to become Israel's longest-serving prime minister in July - will now remain in power until September's vote.

The election is likely to be fought on similar campaign lines to April's closely-fought vote, when Mr Netanyahu faced his toughest competitor in years - former military chief of staff Benny Gantz.

No party has ever won a majority in Israel's 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, and the country has always had coalition governments.

That means the prime minister is not always the person whose party wins the most votes, but the person who manages to bring together enough parties to control at least 61 of the 120 seats in the Knesset.

Mr Netanyahu faces another challenge in the coming months in the form of possible fraud and bribery charges, and has been accused of attempting to secure for himself immunity from prosecution.

He is alleged to have accepted gifts from wealthy businessmen and dispensed favours to try to get more positive press coverage. Mr Netanyahu denies all wrongdoing.

If he is indicted, the Supreme Court will determine whether he must resign.