Benjamin Netanyahu’s government collapses, sending nation to fourth election in 2 years

Israel will hold its forth elections in under two years after two main parties of the unity government failed to meet the deadline over state budgets.

12 months after the last round, voters will return to polls in March.

Two previous elections were inconclusive, resulting in a rare government of national unity.

On Tuesday Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, was automatically dissolved as required by law after a deadline to pass the 2020 state budget expired.

An 11th-hour attempt to avoid this failed after a bill to allow more time was voted down, against expectations.

Hours before the midnight deadline expired, Mr Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud party, and his political rival Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White, blamed each other for the crisis.

“I did not want this election,” Mr Netanyahu told reporters. “Likud did not want this election. We have voted again and again against elections. Unfortunately, Benny Gantz reneged on his agreements with us.”

He said Likud would “win big” at the poll, due on 23 March.

Mr Gantz said the prime minister’s remarks were “more lies than words”. He said Mr Netanyahu wanted to trigger the election in a bid to avoid his corruption trial.

The two men have shared power since April in an uneasy coalition, agreeing to rotate as prime minister, with Mr Netanyahu holding office first before a scheduled handover to Mr Gantz in November 2021.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is under considerable pressure, with weekly street protests against his rule, the pending resumption of his trial in February for alleged corruption, and the continuing struggle to curb coronavirus infections across the country.

He denies the criminal charges against him, dismissing them as politically motivated. He hopes to return to office for the sixth time.