The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, approved its dissolution Monday by a unanimous vote, as Speaker Reuven Rivlin hearalded its unprecedented fifth year landmark, only the third five-term period in the chamber’s history.
Arguing that early elections had previously been called as mere “political ploys”, he sought to reassure an apathetic electorate these “inevitable” and “democratic” elections had come about, because parliament had “failed to decide on cardinal issues related first and foremost to the social-economic debate in the State of Israel”. Adding that this failure had robbed the Knesset of its right to rule, he said it is therefore “the Israeli public that must rule on these fundamental issues by going to the polls”.
As Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu sought to silence criticism of his record in office from parliamentary rivals, he said that “in less than 100 days the people of Israel will determine who will lead them in the face of the greatest security challenges we have known since the state was established”.
In a challenge to his critics, he added that “anyone who belittles the threat posed by a nuclear Iran on Israel is not worthy of leading the state of Israel for even one day”.
One previous attempt this year by the Prime Minister to call early elections was foiled on its third and final reading in the Knesset, despite having passed the two previous readings, by Netanyahu’s surprise announcement of a national unity government agreement with political opposition Kadima in May. Rejecting comparisons with the May bill, he told the electorate: “This time it’s final. We are going to elections.”
He sought to fend off condemnation Monday, from his former coalition partner, Kadima head Shaul Mofaz, who argued that “Israel today is more isolated , divided, scared and hungry than it was” prior to Netanyahu two-term service.
Keen to project an image of unity and strength, Netanyahu argued that despite constant speculation regarding Israel’s military intentions in Iran, no wars were waged during his service. “There was no war because we projected strength,” he argued. His emphasis on peace was seen by some as a criticism of his potential election rival former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose own administration attracted international condemnation for its decision to enter into the Second Lebanon War. Having recently been near-exonerated of criminal charges that forced his resignation from office, Olmert could provide Netanyahu’s only real opposition in the January 22 elections, although has yet to declare his candidacy.
This latest campaign has been billed as a battle of issues, with Netanyahu vowing to “continue to act responsibly) during the campaign period. Since calling for early elections, he has reiterated two significant campaign themes as being the economy and employment, drawing attention to his government’s record of adding over 300,000 job while in office. He has slammed party political lines within his coalition government for failure to reach agreement on next year’s budget, one of the factors prompting early elections, arguing that failure to reach agreement could place Israel at a similar risk to the “crumbling economies of Europe”.
President Shimon Peres has similarly argued that early elections are a “responsible” way of forestalling the inevitability of party political lines being drawn at a risk to the national interest and economy, calling for the election period to “be an example of democracy and civility, without slander, with cross-party respect”. Speaking Monday, following the decision to disperse the Knesset, he added that the campaign period is a time to establish goals for the future and serve as a collective “brainstorm”, as opposed to “arguing for the sake of arguing”.