You thought Bibi Netanyahu won the April 9, 2019, elections, right?

Well, he did but didn’t.

As we explained at the time, in Israel’s (dysfunctional) parliamentary system, it’s necessary for the “winning” party to form a coalition with other parties. Usually, but not always, that coalition will be built by the party that wins the most seats in the Knesset.

In April, Netanyahu’s Likud Party won the most seats, 35 out of the total 120 Knesset seats (tied with the main opposition):

Likud ended up with 35 seats, as did Kahol Lavan, the party led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid.

United Torah Judaism gained a seat compared to last week’s results, putting its final count at eight. The rest of the parties held on to the same number of seats: Shas with eight, Hadash-Ta’al with six, Labor with six, Yisrael Beiteinu with five, Union of Right-Wing Parties with five, and four each for Meretz, Balad-United Arab List and Kulanu.

It was assumed that given right-wing parties won a majority of seats, that Netanyahu would be able to cobble together a majority of 61 or more. But in Israel, the parties each have their own agendas, and the “right wing” consists of both religious and secular parties.

And it was the religious/secular split that caused the problem, over the issue of drafting ultra-orthodox (“Haredi”) men into military service. That is opposed by the religious parties, and was demanded by the secular party headed by former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party only had 5 seats, but those were five seats needed for a majority. And Liberman, who has no love for Netanyahu, wasn’t budging on the draft issue. Neither were the religious parties.

A tweet from Trump urging Israeli parties to form a coalition couldn’t salvage the situation, even through Trump is hugely popular in Israel:

The Times of Israel reported on the vote to dissolve the Knesset and schedule elections for September 17:

Israel’s parliament votes to dissolve itself after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to meet the midnight deadline to form a new government, triggering an unprecedented second national election this year.

After a raucous 12-hour debate, lawmakers approve by a vote of 74 to 45 a Likud-drafted bill to dissolve the 21st Knesset and hold new elections on September 17.

The Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, United Torah Judaism, Shas and Union of Right-Wing Parties were joined by the two Arab-Israeli parties, Ra’am-Balad and Hadash-Ta’al in supporting the motion. Only Kulanu MK Royi Folkman was absent from the vote.

Netanyahu attacked Liberman after the vote, The Jerusalem Post reports:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Wednesday night after the Knesset vote to disperse the government passed with a majority of 74-45, saying that MK Avigdor Liberman has joined the Left.

“Israel made a clear decision,” Netanyahu said. “The Likud will lead the government as a Right-wing government. The different parties that tried to enter the Knesset said, ‘We will support Netanyahu.’ Avigdor Liberman, to my disappointment, had no intention from the beginning to do what he said he would.”

The haredim [ultra-Orthodox] compromised in Liberman’s direction. Step by step, all of the demands, all of the requests, and all of the compromises…” Netanyahu continued.

Netanyahu further criticized Liberman, saying that he “wanted, in the clearest way, to disperse the government. He is dragging an entire country to another half a year of elections because of his wish to get another couple of mandates.”

“Avigdor Liberman is now part of the Left,” he concluded. “You give him votes, to the Right, and he does not give his voice to the Right.”

Calling Liberman “left” is odd, considering Liberman is a hard liner who wanted more aggressive action in Gaza to stop the rockets and border riots. But in Netanyahu’s calculation, anyone who prevents a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu serves the purpose of the relatively miniscule Israeli left (even the main opposition party would be considered “right” in Israeli politics).

Liberman blamed Likud for surrendering to the ultra-orthodox, Arutz Sheva reported:

Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman accused the Likud of disbanding the 21st Knesset and deciding to hold new elections.

“Unfortunately, the State of Israel is going to new elections because of the refusal of the Likud and the haredi parties to accept Yisrael Beytenu’s proposal and vote on the second and third readings of the Draft Law in the original version as it passed in the first reading, with the haredi MKs not participating in the vote,” Liberman said.

“Instead, various proposals were proposed with the sole purpose of wasting time and dissolving or emptying the law of its content. It is a surrender to the haredim, and as we clarified, we are natural partners to a right-wing government, but not to a halakhic government.”

Liberman added, “We also had some progress in our other demands, but we did not reach final agreements on any issue, and as far as I know, the Likud was unable to sign a coalition agreement with any other faction. Therefore, the Likud alone is responsible for the fact that the State of Israel is going to new elections.”

Some tweets from Israeli reporters shedding light on what just happened:


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