Israeli parliament dissolved ahead of March election

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves after a vote to dissolve the Israeli parliament, also known as the Knesset, in Jerusalem on Monday. Israel's parliament voted on Monday to dissolve itself in preparation for an early general election
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves after a vote to dissolve the Israeli parliament, also known as the Knesset, in Jerusalem on Monday. Israel'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 Netanyahu's dismissal of two ministers. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Lawmakers in the Israeli parliament on Monday voted to dissolve the assembly and confirmed March 17 as the date for a snap general election.

At the end of a televised debate, members in the Knesset voted 93-0 in favour of a dissolution bill sponsored by opposition parties.

"The prime minister of Israel made two mistakes," said former finance minister Yair Lapid, who led his Yesh Atid party into opposition last week after being fired by premier Benjamin Netanyahu.

"His first mistake was when he took Israel into totally unnecessary elections," Lapid said from the Knesset podium. "The second mistake is that he will lose."

After Lapid and fellow centrist, HaTnuah party head and justice minister Tzipi Livni were fired last Tuesday a bill to dissolve parliament was given a preliminary reading and passed into law on Monday evening.

The last general election was in January 2013, and the next poll had not been officially due until November 2017.

Cracks in Netanyahu's right-leaning coalition emerged over the 2015 budget and a contentious bill aimed at enshrining Israel's status as the Jewish state in law, a move critics say would institutionalise discrimination against minorities including Arabs.

According to the latest polls, Netanyahu's Likud is expected to win 22 to 24 seats in parliament, compared with the 18 it now holds.

Observers say another right-wing government would reduce the chances of resuming the Middle East peace process, after the last round of US-backed negotiations collapsed in April, notably over the issue of Israel's settlement building on Palestinian territory.

Hardline ministers in Netanyahu's coalition have pushed to step up the construction of Jewish settler homes in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, drawing international condemnation and angering Palestinians who want that land for their future state.