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Knesset rejects bill to delay budget Israel heading to 4th vote in 2 years as Knesset tosses out election prevention bill

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)
This file picture shows a view of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) in session. (Photo by The Times of Israel online newspaper)

Israel is on an almost certain course for a fourth election within less than two years after legislators narrowly rejected a bill that would have deferred the deadline for passing next year’s budget, raising the likelihood that the Knesset (parliament) will dissolve.

Lawmakers voted 49 to 47 after midnight Monday against the legislation that would have given rival coalition parties of Likud and Blue and White extra time to reconcile their stark differences and reach a compromise.

The bill would have pushed back the deadline for approving the 2020 budget from Tuesday night until December 31, and set the deadline for passing the 2021 budget for January 5.

Under the current arrangement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and minister of military affairs Benny Gantz, the shaky coalition administration has until one minute past midnight on Wednesday to strike an agreement over a budget for the current year.

The Knesset will thus automatically dissolve at midnight on Tuesday, and Israelis will go to the polls again, probably on March 23, 2021.

Late on Sunday, Gantz's center-left Blue and White said it had reached an agreement with Netanyahu's right-wing Likud on a bill to buy more time.

But the two leaders engaged in yet another war of words the following day.

Netanyahu said Gantz had “decided to renege” on promises he made, accusing him of "dragging (Israel) to unnecessary elections in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.”

Gantz, in return, insisted that he had presented Netanyahu with clear conditions to avoid another vote.

“If Likud won't meet our demands, we will head to elections with our head held high,” he said.

Long-standing disagreements between Likud and Blue and White regarding the rotation of the premiership has for weeks been pushing the fragile coalition towards eventual collapse.

Likud has apparently been holding up the budget for months in an effort to renegotiate a more favorable coalition.

Netanyahu would have to campaign for the election during his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust if elections were to be held soon.

Multiple recent surveys suggest that the New Hope party of former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar could withdraw considerable support away from Netanyahu.

For several months now, Israel has been the scene of massive protest rallies held by people who want the controversial prime minister to quit power.

Opinion polls indicate that Likud would pick up some 28 seats in a March vote, down from the 36 it won in the March 2020 elections.

Blue and White, which won 33 seats in the previous elections, is hovering at some 5 seats — barely above the Knesset threshold. New Hope party is polling at 19-20 seats. 

“We don’t want elections. That’s why we were willing to vote in the Knesset to avoid it,” Netanyahu said during a meeting with White House special advisor Jared Kushner on Monday. “But if elections are imposed upon us, we will win.”

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