Israel inches closer to snap election with overnight vote

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israel edged closer to snap polls as a bill to dissolve parliament passed its first reading in the early hours of Tuesday morning, despite a general election last month.

Pitched into chaos by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's failure to form a governing coalition after the April polls, the Knesset voted 66 to 44 in favour of a new election, tentatively scheduled for September 17, the parliament's website said.

Later on Tuesday a committee was to meet to prepare the bill for its second and third readings, which if passed would make the bill law.

No timetable was published for the two final votes on the legislation, which had passed an initial reading Monday night.

Netanyahu's Likud party submitted the bill to dissolve parliament Monday as a Wednesday night deadline to form a viable coalition loomed with negotiations deadlocked.

Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has blocked a deal by refusing to budge from a key demand -- and he showed no sign of backing down on Monday.

Lieberman is seeking a guarantee that legislation aimed at having ultra-Orthodox Jews perform mandatory military service -- like other Jewish Israelis -- be approved without changes.

His party controls five seats in parliament and Netanyahu needs his support for the coalition he is seeking.

If a deal is not reached by Wednesday night's deadline, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin could give Netanyahu another two weeks if he concludes the premier is the only person capable of forming a government.

Alternatively, Rivlin could ask another member of parliament to take on the task.

Netanyahu is widely seen as preferring new elections rather than leaving the choice up to Rivlin, due to the possibility someone else could be selected.

Netanyahu could also seek to form a minority government.