Israel moved closer on Wednesday to another early election, its fourth in two years, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s disenchanted coalition partners joined the opposition in a preliminary vote to bring down the unity government in which they serve.
The bill to disperse the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament, and head to new elections heralded a new period of political instability and upheaval even though the government did not immediately fall.
The motion passed 61 to 54 with five lawmakers absent. But the proposed bill must go to committee and pass three more readings before it becomes law.
Separate from that process, however, if a state budget is not approved by Dec. 23, the Knesset will disperse automatically and elections will be set for late March. Mr. Netanyahu has so far refused to pass a budget for 2020 or to present one for 2021.
“These last months have been difficult,” said Yair Lapid, the leader of the opposition, in a speech introducing the bill. “They haven’t only been difficult because of the health crisis. They haven’t only been difficult because of the economic disaster. They’ve been difficult because of the depth of the failure of this government.”
The government was sworn in just six months ago, after three inconclusive elections ended without any one candidate able to muster a parliamentary majority. In the end, Mr. Netanyahu of the conservative Likud party persuaded his main rival, Benny Gantz, a former army chief and the leader of the centrist Blue and White party, to join forces with him in a unity government.
Mr. Gantz, who broke an election promise by joining Mr. Netanyahu’s government and has since lost much of his public support, voted on Wednesday to break it up.