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Israeli parliament dissolves ahead of March elections

Israeli parliament members voted unanimously 93-0 on Monday to dissolve the Knesset, as general elections are set for March 17
The shut down came less than a week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling coalition fell apart, and he called for early elections (MEE/Oren Ziv)

Israeli lawmakers have voted to dissolve the Israeli parliament, as a new election date has been set for March 17 next year.

In a unanimous vote, 93 parliament members voted in favour of dissolving the Knesset on Monday, less than a week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling coalition fell apart and he called for early ballots.

"The regime does not have the right to exist without the ability to implement government decisions," said MK Ze'ev Elkin, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party and chairman of the outgoing government coalition.

"The public is wondering why we are going to elections, but in the current circumstances, elections are the lesser of two evils," he said.

The last Israeli general election was in January 2013, while the next vote had not been scheduled until November 2017.

AFP news agency reported that according to the latest polls, Netanyahu's Likud is expected to win 22 to 24 seats in parliament, compared to the 18 it now holds.

Opposition critical of Netanyahu

The shut down comes less than a week after Prime Minister Netanyahu fired Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid - heads of the HaTnuah and Yesh Atid parties, both members of the ruling coalition - whom he accused of acting against the government.

"The prime minister of Israel made two mistakes," said Lapid, ahead of the vote to dissolve parliament, according to AFP. "His first mistake was when he took Israel into totally unneccessary elections. The second mistake is that he will lose."

Netanyahu watches as the Knesset votes (MEE/Oren Ziv)

The prime minister did not address parliament on Monday, only entering the general assembly hall to cast his vote on the bill.

"The time of this prime minister has come. This is not the way to lead the state of Israel," said Nitzan Horowitz, an MP from the left-wing Meretz party. "As a citizen I feel sorry for the disgrace that was taking place here, and I look forward, and I am sure, the next government will much better."

Mohammad Barakeh, a Palestinian MP from the Hadash party, condemned Netanyahu's government ahead of the vote.

"For one year and nine months, this government managed many wars; the main one is the war in Gaza that caused the death of more than 2,000 innocent civilians," he said.

Elkin, of Netanyahu's Likud party, called for calm, adding: "Despite the opposition and the strong emotions, please keep your esteem, and the Knesset's esteem. Beyond the disagreements, we have one state, one Knesset and one democracy."

MPs push through bills

The dissolution of parliament came after a full day of hearings and the swift passage of several major bills.

Last week, Netanyahu fired Tzipi Livni from the government
Last week, Netanyahu fired Tzipi Livni from the government (MEE/Oren Ziv)

Lawmakers passed an amendment to Israel's so-called Anti-Infiltration Law, a piece of legislation that was cancelled twice in the past by the Israeli High Court. The law allows Israel to imprison African asylum seekers indefinitely for entering the country without a permit, and also detain those who are already living in Israel.

Additionally, the parliamentary economics committee approved a transfer of NIS 2.1bn ($500m) to the Israeli army, a move that involved cutting approximately NIS 350m ($88m) from public transportation, NIS 311m ($78m) from daycares, and NIS 200m ($50m) from education, among other government budgets.

The same committee attempted to shuttle NIS 187m ($47m) to settlement projects in the West Bank, but these efforts were rejected by parliament members.

"This government fails time after time. The right wing party steals our money for political needs," said MK Stav Shaffir, from the Labour party.