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Israel moves toward parl. dissolution, election rerun amid deadlock in coalition talks

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3rd-L) waits to be sworn in parliament during the special opening session of the 21st Knesset (Israeli parliament) on April 30, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Israeli lawmakers have approved the first reading of a bill to dissolve the parliament (Knesset) and hold new general elections as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a coalition government remained deadlocked.

The measure, drafted by Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, was passed with 66 votes in favor, 44 against and five abstentions on Monday night.

Two more votes, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, are required for the final approval of the law.

A special Knesset committee, which has been set up to prepare the potential Israeli elections, said the polls would take place on September 17.

Netanyahu won a fifth term in office in the April elections. He has until 21:00 GMT on Wednesday to form a government that controls at least 61 seats in the 120-member parliament.

If Netanyahu fails to do so by the deadline, President Reuven Rivlin may assign another lawmaker to do the task.

The coalition talks reached a stalemate over disagreements between ultra-Orthodox parties and Yisrael Beiteinu, a secular right-wing party led by former minister of military affairs Avigdor Lieberman, on a military conscription bill.

At a Knesset press conference, Netanyahu pledged to continue pursuing coalition talks in the next 48 hours, saying he was “doing everything possible to form a right-wing government and prevent unnecessary elections that will cost billions of shekels.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the parliament (Knesset) in Jerusalem al-Quds on May 27, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

The premier also blamed the crisis on Lieberman and urged him to reconsider joining the government.

Lieberman said he was acting only out of “principle,” calling Netanyahu’s inability to form an administration a “huge, unprecedented failure.”

Lieberman also stressed that he had already made concessions and was ready for new elections if needed.

“We will support the dissolution of the Knesset and we will not recommend any other alternative candidate [to the president for the formation of the coalition],” he said.

Sources said a meeting between Lieberman and Netanyahu during the Knesset's Monday vote had ended without any breakthrough.

“Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to convince Lieberman to avoid another election,” Netanyahu said.

Benny Gantz, the co-chairman of the centrist Blue and White alliance who ran against Netanyahu in the April elections, said that the prime minister could settle the coalition crisis if he wanted to, but he refused to do so because it did not serve his interests.

“Bibi could get out of his chair and there would be a functioning government tomorrow, but this is how it goes when the citizens are always the secondary consideration,” he tweeted.

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