Everything you always wanted to know about the upcoming Israeli elections

With early elections to be held within 3 months, here’s a comprehensive guide to the most pertinent questions & issues.

Next Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to submit to the Knesset plenum a bill to dissolve the current Knesset. Immediately following the first reading, the Knesset Committee will formulate the wording of the bill, so that the plenum will swiftly approve the second and third readings that same night.

knesset indoors

The Knesset.

When will the elections take place?

The government will determine the exact date for the election. Netanyahu began consultations on Tuesday with the leaders of the various parties and has already discussed the issue with the leaders of the opposition, including Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Zahava Gal-On (Meretz), with the hope of finding an agreed date.

Yacimovich said she would prefer January 29, 2013, and according to a senior minister, Netanyahu himself would like to see the elections take place on February 12. Sources close to the prime minister clarified on Tuesday that the question of the date is still open, but the elections will take place within the next three months.
The date would be set in a fashion that would allow the next government to serve for almost five years, similar to the declared tenure of the current government, the sources said. This is based on the Basic Law on the Knesset, which mandates that elections will be set to take place on the third Tuesday of the Hebrew month of Heshvan, at least four years from the day that Knesset was first convened.

Can bills still be passed in this Knesset?

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) said Tuesday that he would do his best to dissolve the Knesset “within hours,” so as not to postpone the issue due to nonrelated matters. Rivlin expressed concern that the Knesset would be flooded by “populist” bills meant to boost the popularity of the various parties among their potential supporters. Still, until the bill to dissolve the Knesset is passed on its second and third reading, the Knesset can pass new bills. The Knesset has approved all three readings of a bill within 24 hours in some instances.

A moment before the Knesset was dissolved last May, a move that was eventually aborted due to Kadima’s short-lived tenure in the government, some MKs showed how controversial bills can get passed right before elections. They approved second and third readings granting tax exemptions for donations to organizations that “encourage settlement activity.” The law does not differentiate between settlement activity on either side of the Green Line, but the opposition insisted that it promotes settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. The bill’s sponsor, MK Zeev Elkin (Likud), responded by saying that the move was meant to help organizations encouraging settlement in the Negev and Galilee.

On the same day, the Knesset approved the second and third readings of a bill annulling all National Insurance Institute payments to “terrorists,” a bill sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu MKs David Rotem and Robert Ilatov. According to the bill, any person convicted of security offenses would lose half of his unemployment, old age and other benefits. The original bill called for the annulment of all benefits, but due to the Justice Ministry’s objection, the amended bill annulled only half of the benefits, and that, too, only in cases when the offender was sentenced to 10 or more years in prison.

Also on that same day, the Knesset approved the first reading of two other bills, one aimed at boosting religious freedom and the other allowing the outgoing State Comptroller three additional months to complete his report on the Harpaz Affair concerning the appointment of the current Israel Defense Forces chief of staff.

In context of the upcoming elections, what is the economic significance of failing to approve the budget?

Until the elections take place, the present situation will force the ministries to operate on the basis of the current budget and resort to short-term planning. The ministries will function on a monthly budget equal to one-twelfth of their 2011 annual budget. Naturally, such constraints can harm new projects and block the hiring of new employees and the issuing of tenders.

New parties and candidates

The past two years have been full of talk about new candidates and political alignments. Still, only one person, Yair Lapid, has so far declared his candidacy and the establishment of a new political party. Many potential Knesset candidates are waiting for the official declaration of new elections before announcing their plans. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” one of these candidates told Haaretz.

The undeclared candidates fear a rerun of last May’s fiasco, when the elections were cancelled by Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz after the Knesset had already dissolved itself.

Former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni has kept the press consistently updated as to her moves, apparently reflecting her desire to return to the fray. Former minister Haim Ramon has already declared his intent to establish a new party to be headed by Livni or another candidate. The National Left movement, which has been active in recent years, has not yet decided officially whether it is running or not.

Some of the 2011 social protest leaders have declared in the past that they would participate in future elections, but so far they have not clarifed their intentions. Still, Labor hopes to recruit some of them. Sources in the party have explicitly stated they expect protest leaders Stav Shafir and Itzik Shmuli, the National Student Union chairman,  to take part in Labor’s primaries.

Will former prime minister Ehud Olmert run?

Ehud Olmert’s possibility of returning to the prime minister’s office has not yet been determined by the High Court of Justice. Many Kadima officials would be glad to have him lead the party again. Lapid has declared that he won’t join forces with Olmert and Livni, as mentioned, has yet to declare her candidacy. In any case, all center-left candidates would love to have Olmert’s endorsement, a move they believe would vastly improve their public standing. Support from former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi would also be most welcome.

And what about the Avigdor Lieberman investigation?

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein declared last May that a decision on whether to indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would be handed down within weeks. In light of recent developments regarding the elections, Weinstein insisted that “law enforcement authorities will continue their work, as usual, in matters connected to serving officials and candidates, and the treatment of these cases will be determined by developments in the case, according to existing procedures.”

In fact, the Lieberman file is the oldest file still being processed by the police and the Prosecutor’s Office. The attorney general has postponed the decision several times, mainly due to the success of Lieberman’s attorneys in providing convincing arguments that no criminal offense was committed. Naturally, the failure of the Olmert case might also cause the Prosecutor’s Office to reconsider its steps.

If an indictment is submitted, one can conclude from the Olmert precedent that Lieberman might still run as a candidate, but might not be allowed to be sworn in as a minster. In any case, he will remain the dominant leader of his party, Yisrael Beiteinu.

View original HAARETZ publication at: http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-upcoming-israeli-elections-1.469229