Israel heads for likely early vote over coalition crisis

Tensions within Netanyahu’s fractious coalition government have been brewing for months

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Israel looks set to hold early elections within months following a crisis within the ruling rightwing coalition provoked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, media reports said Tuesday.

Tensions within Netanyahu’s fractious coalition government have been brewing for months but came to a head late Monday after the collapse of talks with Finance Minister Yair Lapid aimed at heading off an early election race.

The current coalition was pieced together following general elections in January 2013. Although the next election is theoretically due in November 2017, Israel’s main newspapers said the vote could be brought forward to as early as March.

Earlier this week, four opposition parties tabled a bill to dissolve the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, which will be put to a preliminary vote on Wednesday.

Public radio said the bill could even draw support from Netanyahu’s Likud party.

During Monday’s meeting Netanyahu presented Lapid with five demands he would have to accept if the government was to continue functioning, including his acceptance of a controversial bill to enshrine Israel as the Jewish state.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu told Minister Lapid that the government could not continue to exist in a reality in which he and members of his party continually attack the government in which they serve,” the premier’s office said in a statement shortly after they met.

But Lapid turned him down.

“Netanyahu is leading Israel to unnecessary elections,” his centrist Yesh Atid party said.

“It is clear that it is the end of the government following Yair Lapid’s refusal to accept such a surrender,” public radio said.

Netanyahu’s ruling coalition holds 68 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

Likud ran on a joint ticket with the hardline Yisrael Beitenu of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, with their alliance securing a narrow victory of 31 seats in the last election, followed by Yesh Atid with 19.

But the Likud-Beitenu alliance was dismantled earlier this year, leaving Likud holding just 18 seats and Yesh Atid currently the largest party in Israel.

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