Knesset Arrangements Committee approved on Wednesday the dispersal bill for the 22nd Knesset for a first call and vote in the plenum.
The rest of the required readings set to be fast-tracked through parliament by the end of the day, as a midnight deadline to either form a new government or hold fresh elections looms.
The speedy movement on the legislation comes after the Knesset Arrangements Committee agreed Wednesday morning to waive the usual period for passing a bill.
The legislation, voted upon in the three required calls in the plenum, will launch Israel into a third election cycle within 12 months.
Fifty MKs backed the bill in its preliminary readings. There were no abstentions.
Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn Presented the draft legislation, expressing his regret at the current stalemate that led to this point.
“My heart aches today and I think that is true of all Knesset members. I thought, or at least hoped, that the laws I would pass would be social legislation and not proposals for the dissolution of the Knesset, but this is what is happening now,” he said.
“It’s a hard day for the Israeli public, each side thinks the other is to blame and I ask that we behave in a statesmanlike manner and that we see better days. “
Barring a near impossible breakthrough in coalition efforts, the bill is expected to pass and set March 2, 2020 as the date of the unprecedented third round of elections within a 12-month period.
If the bill isn’t passed by midnight, new elections would automatically be set for March 10.
The move prolongs a political stalemate that has paralyzed the government and undermined many citizens’ faith in the democratic process.
Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud and his chief rival Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party have for weeks insisted they want to avoid another costly election campaign that is expected to produce similar results.
But neither has been willing to compromise on their core demands for a power-sharing agreement. Netanyahu’s recent indictment on corruption charges has added a murky legal imbroglio to the saga.
Following the September elections, both men failed during their officially mandated time to form a governing coalition on their own. Then, in a final three-week window, they could not join forces to avoid another vote.
Both sides said they were working until the last minute to find some way out of the deadlock. However, a breakthrough seemed highly unlikely.
Given Israel’s divided state, and the deep mistrust between the opposing camps, there is no guarantee that another vote will break the loop of elections and instability that has rocked the country for the past year.
Another campaign, and the national holiday of Election Day, will cost the economy billions.
But there will be an even steeper price caused by nearly 18 months of caretaker governments that cannot carry out major legislation, make appointments or pass budgets, said Yohanan Plesner, president of the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute.
“The entire decision-making apparatus has been stalled and that has ample implications across the board,” he said.
“Israelis are frustrated as a result of the fact that there is no decisive outcome. But there is also an understanding that we are in a very unique and unprecedented situation where a prime minister who is very popular within his own constituency is also being indicted with very severe crimes.”
The most straightforward way out of the stalemate would be for Gantz’s centrist party to form a unity government with Likud. Together, they control a solid majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
But Gantz’s party refuses to sit with Netanyahu, who was indicted last month on charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.
Netanyahu, the country’s longest-ever serving leader, is desperately clinging to power to wage his legal battle from the favorable perch of prime minister. He has insisted on going first in any alternating leadership arrangement and has refused to drop his 55-seat bloc with other right-wing and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.
Gantz has said he would make a deal with a different leader of Likud. But Netanyahu has so far managed to fend off a burgeoning insurrection inside his party, with just one major figure, Gideon Sa’ar, daring to openly challenge him.
“If I am elected head of Likud, I will lead it to victory,” Sa’ar said Tuesday, citing polls that he was more likely to be able to build a stable coalition.
“It is very clear, on the other hand, that if we keep the current course we will not get anywhere better than we have in the last two elections.”
The Likud announced Wednesday that it would hold its leadership vote on Dec. 26.
Netanyahu is not legally compelled to step down after being indicted, but Israeli law is fuzzy about whether he could be given authority to form a new government after the next election.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who was harshly criticized by both sides throughout the lengthy process he took to press charges, will now be required to rule on that question as well before a likely court challenge.
Recent opinion polls have forecast a similar deadlock if new elections are held.