Israeli government falls, early elections called for April

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling coalition collapsed on Monday, with the announcement it was dissolving parliament and calling early elections in April. Lapid's party is second to Likud in opinion polls.

For now, there does not appear to be anyone with the popularity or gravitas to topple Netanyahu.

Israeli police recommended in February two different bribery charges. The other case involves the prime minister and the publisher of the country's biggest newspaper. One case involves the conservative leader allegedly accepting "gifts" worth $200,000 from businessmen in exchange for bolstering their interests.

The prime minister allegedly gave communication mogul Shaul Elovitch regulatory benefits worth in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and said he is the victim of a media-fueled witch hunt.

Mandelblit has not said when he expects to make a decision.

The justice ministry announced Monday that deliberations were continuing and were "not dependent on political events".

But criminal charges, and the distraction of a protracted legal battle, could fuel calls for him to step aside.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) said the decision was made because it was "difficult to function right now", adding it was the right decision to "keep financial stability".

Israel to hold early election in April
Israel will hold early elections as parliament prepares to dissolve

Turkey and Israel have seen deteriorating relations in recent months, and follows a complete freezing of ties when Turkish activists were killed by Israeli soldiers on a flotilla travelling to Gaza in 2010. The thinking is that it would be politically hard for Mandelblit to indict, and potentially topple, a popular, newly re-elected prime minister.

"The current coalition is, in my eyes, the core of the next coalition", Netanyahu said.

The Haredi Draft Law, as it is called would impose financial sanctions on religious learning institutions which failed to meet enlistment quotas, while simultaneously enabling those who have already selected to defer their military to service to extend their deferments.

Mr Netanyahu has been governing with a single-seat majority in the 120-member parliament since mid November, when Avigdor Lieberman resigned as defence minister and withdrew his Yisrael Beitenu party from the ruling coalition because of what he said was the government's weak response to rocket attacks from Gaza.

"He wants to turn around to the attorney general and say 'before you decide to prosecute me pay attention".

But since Mr Lieberman's resignation the coalition has been relying on the slimmest of parliamentary majorities, just 61 out of its 120 members, and has found governing hard.

The coalition's inability to come together on a law regulating army deferments for members of the ultra-Orthodox was seen as a main factor leading to the snap poll.

Earlier, Yair Lapid of the opposition Yesh Atid party announced he was rescinding his support for the bill, calling the coalition's hoped-for compromise a payoff to draft dodgers.

As a result, Netanyahu convened his fellow coalition faction leaders and the decision was made to dissolve parliament and go to elections.

  • Jon Douglas