The Knesset, Israel's Parliament
The Knesset, Israel's Parliament Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Knesset began its winter session on Monday, and could end it this week with a decision to dissolve itself and prepare for elections. The gist of the law is that the current Knesset session ends 90 days before the scheduled Election Day.

Footage courtesy of Knesset Channel

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The law states that elections must be held within 90 days after the President informs the Knesset that the designated government leader has failed to form a coalition - unless the Knesset decides otherwise. President Peres informed the Knesset yesterday (Sunday) about Livni's failure, and the Knesset now has 21 days to choose a different date, up to five months from now.

The Knesset is not expected to set Election Day much after early February, however.  If Feb. 10 (106 days from now) is chosen, for instance, as appears likely, the current winter session will end in approximately 16 days.

Nearly all party leaders have come out in favor of new elections, and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni said today, "I would expect the leaders of the parties to cooperate in setting Election Day for as early as possible - especially those who have been calling for months for new elections." She was referring specifically to Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Four Speeches

Four speeches were heard in the opening session: that of Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Netanyahu.

Speaker Itzik's was her parting speech; she has served as Knesset Speaker for two and a half years, but no Speaker since 1977 has ever served for a second term. She called upon the parties to try to form a national unity government, as she has long supported, and said, "In the end, the public will appreciate those who do not take cynical advantage of the political situation in which we find ourselves." She concluded by quoting a long passage from the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel.

President Peres, in a long address, declared officially that new elections are on the way. He said, "This is the hour in which the Knesset and the political network must take careful stock of their situation. It is never too late to rectify... In the coming days, Israel will enter a critical election campaign. This will be the first test for you, the nation's elected officials: It is within your power to turn this campaign into a turning point that will signal to all that Israel's political establishment is headed towards rehabilitation."

Peres named several issues that he felt are key in the coming campaign: Iran's nuclear program and Israel's ability to defend itself; the Saudi initiative, which Peres supports; economics; society and the regime of law; and education.

Next to speak was Olmert, the lame duck prime minister who will not serve in the next Knesset and will dedicate his time to defending himself in the several criminal police investigations underway against him. Olmert stated that the current government should not be viewed as incapacitated, and that he plans to continue to be in charge: "There is a country to run and decisions to make, and the decisions will be made and the country will be run."

The prime minister said that nary a day goes by when he does not deal with the issue of Gilad Shalit's captivity: "I will not go into details or argue with his supporters, but I will rather continue to act quietly, patiently and firmly as I have done until now."

The Shalits: No Visits for Terrorist Prisoners

Gilad's parents Noam and Aviva Shalit spent the day in the Knesset, trying to garner support for their initiative to have PA terrorists imprisoned in Israel treated the same way as is their son - no visits from family or the Red Cross, and the like.

Finally, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu spoke - praising Olmert in one aspect but otherwise giving an all-out political speech on behalf of the Likud. He said that Olmert had acted appropriately in dealing with the economic crisis, "and you [Olmert] can count on the Likud to cooperate with such emergency measures, as we have done in the past."

Netanyahu took credit for Israel's success in weathering the current economic storm, saying, "The actions that we took in the past [he served as Finance Minister from 2003 until 2005] have lowered unemployment, have helped Israel weather the current storm, and lowered our national overdraft, leaving us the ability to now deal with important things - including, if we have to, the guarantee of citizens' long-term savings. The economic storm is on the way, and the first waves are already licking the shore. My colleagues and I believe that we can come out of it stronger, but it depends on policy and on leadership."

"When I win the election," Netanyahu said, "I will invite Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak to join us in a national unity government, together with our partners," Shas and Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Our Home party. 

Netanyahu said that in future talks with the Palestinian Authority, "We will not return to the '67 borders. We will retain the Golan and the Jordan Valley, and we will have defensible borders. In addition, no refugees will enter Israel, for no country ever negotiates its own destruction. Neither will we negotiate Jerusalem, our 3,000-year-old capital."