The Israeli parliament has passed a preliminary proposal to dissolve itself, setting up a possible fourth national election in under two years.
The vote came just seven months after the coalition government took office in a declaration of national unity to confront the coronavirus crisis.
But since then, the alliance between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and defence minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White has been locked in never-ending infighting.
The vote gave only preliminary approval to ending the alliance and forcing new elections early next year. The legislation now heads to a committee before coming before parliament for final approval, perhaps as soon as next week.
In the meantime, Mr Gantz and Mr Netanyahu are expected to continue negotiations in a last-ditch attempt to preserve their troubled alliance.
Blue and White joined the opposition in Wednesday’s vote for the dissolution – a proposal which passed by 61 votes to 54 – and accused the Prime Minister of putting his own personal interests ahead of those of the country.
Mr Netanyahu is on trial for a series of corruption charges, and Mr Gantz accuses him of hindering key governmental work, including the passage of a national budget, in hopes of stalling or overturning the legal proceedings against him.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party voted in favour of new elections, accused the government of gross mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.
He said the one thing all citizens share is “the feeling that they lost control over their lives”.
The government has not yet passed a budget for 2020 – a result of the deep divisions produced by its power-sharing agreement. The lack of budget has caused severe hardships and cutbacks for Israelis at a time when unemployment is estimated to be above 20% because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Israel has gone through two nationwide lockdowns since March, and officials are already warning the rising infection rate could result in a return to strict restrictions that were only recently lifted.
If a budget for 2020 is not passed by December 23, Israeli law stipulates an automatic dissolution of parliament and new elections.
Under the coalition deal, Mr Netanyahu is to serve as prime minister until November 2021, with the job rotating to Mr Gantz for 18 months after that.
The only way Mr Netanyahu can hold on to his seat and get out of that agreement is if a budget does not pass.
Mr Gantz appears to have concluded that elections are inevitable and the sooner they are held the better. By pushing forward the election to early next year, he seems to be banking on Mr Netanyahu being punished by voters for a still-raging coronavirus pandemic and struggling economy.
Mr Netanyahu, on the other hand, would benefit by dragging out budget talks and delaying elections to later in the year in the hopes that a vaccine will arrive and the economy will begin to recover.