Israel’s parliament votes to dissolve itself, election set for March 17


israel knessetIsrael’s parliament voted on Monday to dissolve itself in preparation for an early general election on March 17, after a crisis set in motion by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dismissal of two ministers.

The parliament’s vote of 93 to 0 formalized a decision to move forward an election that had not been expected until 2017, in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s Dec. 2 firing of Yair Lapid as finance minister and Tzipi Livni as justice minister.

Most opinion polls show Netanyahu being reelected as prime minister, with many Israelis backing his tough stance on the conflict with the Palestinians and other security issues.

Though his Likud party is expected to win the most seats, Netanyahu would need to align with other parties to form a government with majority support in the 120-member parliament.

Netanyahu launched his re-election campaign on Monday with a promise to cancel value added tax on basic foods, at a business conference in Tel Aviv.

He called the plan a blueprint for “social justice”, in what was seen as a critical nod to middle-class Israelis and ultra-Orthodox parties whose support he may need to head the next government.

Just before the dissolution vote, lawmakers voted 47 to 23 to pass a government-backed amendment to keep open a detention center for African migrants despite a high court order to shut it by Dec. 22.

The court found in September that holding some 2,000 migrants, under a law passed in 2013 that permitted them to be held without trial, violated rights to freedom and dignity.

The amendment passed on Tuesday set a 20-month limit to detentions at the Holot facility.

More than 40,000 Eritreans and Sudanese are in Israel, human rights groups say. Many entered illegally across the border with Egypt.

“In a democracy you cannot jail people without trial. The court will reject it, again,” lawmaker Nitzan Horowitz of the left-wing Meretz party said, in protest against the vote.

Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an advocacy group for the migrants, said it would appeal again to the court, saying parliament had voted “to waste taxpayers’ money on wrong solutions.”