Israel to hold elections on March 17

Procedure to adopt law to dissolve parliament begins following dismissal of two senior cabinet ministers by Netanyahu.

    Israel is to hold a snap election on March 17 following a crisis within Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government.

    Wednesday's announcement of the election date came a day after Israel's prime minister dismissed two senior cabinet ministers from his divided government.

    "After consultations between different parties, it has been decided to hold elections on March 17," Eran Sidis, parliamentary spokesperson, said, adding that the procedure to adopt a law to dissolve parliament would begin on Wednesday.

    We are sad to see that the prime minister has chosen to act without consideration for the national interest and to drag Israel to unnecessary elections.

    Yair Lapid, dismissed minister

    Netanyahu ordered the dismissals of Yair Lapid, finance minister, and Tzipi Livni, justice minister, on Tuesday.

    "I will not tolerate any opposition in my government," a statement from Netanyahu's office quoted him as saying.

    It said he would call for dissolving the parliament as soon as possible and seek a "clear mandate" from the public to lead the nation.

    In Brussels, John Kerry, US secretary of state, declined to comment on the "internal politics" of Israel.

    "But obviously, we hope that whatever government is formed - or whether there are elections, that those elections will produce - the possibility of a government that can negotiate and move towards resolving the differences between Israelis and Palestinians," he said.

    The current government took office in early 2013 and has been riven by divisions.

    It has been divided over key issues in recent weeks, and Lapid and Livni have emerged as fierce critics of Netanyahu. 

    "The firing of ministers is an act of cowardice and loss of control,'' Lapid said after his dismissal.

    "We are sad to see that the prime minister has chosen to act without consideration for the national interest and to drag Israel to unnecessary elections.''

    Split coalition

    Addressing a news conference after Tuesday's dismissals, Netanyahu said it was impossible to lead the country the a government that was not functioning properly, an apparent reference to Lapid and Livni, who have criticised his policies. 

    Netanyahu's coalition, dominated by the right wing, is split on a range of issues, including the 2015 budget, high living costs, policy towards the Palestinians and a Jewish nation-state bill.

    Livni had been the most outspoken opponent of the Jewish state bill, which has been widely criticised internationally and domestically as discriminating against Israeli-Palestinian citizens.

    Inside Story - Jewish State vs Democracy?

    If early elections are held, Israeli media say the most likely date is March.

    Two television polls on Tuesday said Netanyahu's rightist Likud party would emerge once again as the largest group in parliament if elections were held today, almost certainly ensuring him a fourth term as prime minister.

    "Even though his popularity has gone down over the 50- day Gaza war, he's still the favourite to win an election," Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons, reporting from Jerusalem, said.

    "What we are seeing now is him asserting himself and using the term 'opposition within the cabinet'. He says a day does not go by without his policies being challenged by his fellow coalition members."

    The government waged a fierce war against Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip over the summer. Negotiations to reach peace with the Palestinians ended in failure last spring.

    In the occupied West Bank, Riad Malki, Palestinian foreign minister, said opinion polls indicate the next Israeli government may be "more right-wing and extreme".

    He said this could bolster international support for the Palestinian cause.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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