Israel headed for third election in 12 months

Image: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on Nov. 17, 2019. Copyright Gali Tibbon
By Saphora Smith and Paul Goldman with NBC News World News
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It is the latest in a wave of firsts for the Israeli nation, after Netanyahu became the first sitting prime minister to be indicted last month.


Israel was headed for a third national election in a 12-month period on Wednesday night, after the deadline for a government to be formed expired.

It is the latest in a wave of firsts for the Israeli nation after Benjamin Netanyahu became the first sitting prime minister to be indicted on corruption charges last month.

The looming election represents a lifeline for the embattled prime minister, whose indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust came just weeks after he failed to cobble together a government in October.

The double blow was perhaps the greatest challenge to his political leadership to date. He denies any wrongdoing has vowed to stay on as prime minister.

The third election will likely be held on March 2 next year, a date agreed upon by Netanyahu's Likud party and his chief political rival Benny Gantz's Blue and White party.

It remains unclear whether the Likud party will back Netanyahu as its leader and if so, whether his indictment will upset the political deadlock that has characterized the past two polls.

In an election in September, Netanyahu and Gantz virtually tied, with Blue and White coming in first with 33 seats and Likud trailing behind with 32. Even with allied parties backing them, both men failed to reach the 61-seat majority threshold needed to form a government in the 120-seat Knesset.

Before that, in an election in April, Likud and Blue and White both won 35 seats. Netanyahu had the greatest number of endorsements from other parties, however, so he was able to attempt to form a government.

In the end, his ambition was scuppered by Avigdor Lieberman, a former ally, who refused to join his coalition, accusing Netanyahu of giving ultra-Orthodox religious parties too much power. That decision left the prime minister one seat short of a parliamentary majority.

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