Israel to hold snap election on 23 March, unity government collapses

The Israeli Parliament dissolved itself at midnight Tuesday, after PM Benjamin Netanyahu's fractured ruling coalition failed to pass a budget, triggering a fourth election in two years, news wires reported.

The coalition sworn in just seven months ago paired PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party with his main rival-turned-partner, Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party.

Netanyahu and Gantz blamed each other for the crisis. “I think at the current time, we should have united forces to find a way to avert these needless elections,” Netanyahu said in Parliament early Tuesday as he tried, and failed, to seek a delay in its dissolution.

A new election must take place in three months and is scheduled for 23 March. But an election date in the late spring or summer, once the coronavirus vaccination campaign is well underway, might have been more advantageous for Netanyahu.

Parliament automatically dispersed at midnight after failing to meet the legal deadline for approving a budget for 2020. Netanyahu, whose party holds the finance portfolio, had refused to present a budget, in violation of his coalition agreement with Gantz, the ostensible reason for the government breakdown.

But at the heart of the crisis lies a deep, mutual distrust between the two men and a country fundamentally split over the fate of Netanyahu, whose corruption trial is scheduled to move into an intensive, evidentiary stage in early 2021, requiring his regular presence in court. He has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing.

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