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Israeli PM fires key ministers
01:43 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: Lawmakers approve the dissolution of parliament in a preliminary vote

New elections probably will be held on March 17, Israel's parliament speaker says

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for its dissolution and new elections

Netanyahu ordered the ouster of Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni

Jerusalem CNN  — 

New elections will probably be held on March 17, the speaker of Israel’s parliament said Wednesday, a day after the Prime Minister sacked two senior members of his coalition Cabinet for criticizing government policy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also called for parliament to be dissolved, a step that the Knesset is now considering.

Lawmakers voted unanimously to dissolve parliament in a preliminary vote Wednesday, according to the official Knesset website. A Knesset committee will now prepare a bill for further votes by lawmakers early next week.

Speaker Yuli Edelstein said the party heads had agreed on March 17 as the proposed election date.

The upheaval was triggered when Netanyahu ordered letters of dismissal for Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, two members of his Cabinet from rival parties, according to a statement from his office Tuesday.

“During the last few weeks and, in particular, the last few days, the ministers have intensely attacked the government that I am leading,” Netanyahu said. “… I will not tolerate ministers attacking the government’s policy and its head from inside the government.”

The call for new elections means Israel is effectively in a state of political paralysis until March.

Israel held its last election just 22 months ago. A poll for Israel’s Channel 2 suggested that 55% of those surveyed were against another election being held so soon.

Polls give mixed picture

Netanyahu will hope that the vote enables him to form a government he can work with, including right-wing and religious parties, but there is no guarantee that he will be able to form the coalition he wants.

Netanyahu has been Prime Minister since 2009. But he’s had to rely on members of other parties – many of them to the left of Likud on the political spectrum, such as the centrist parties of Livni and Lapid – to govern.

Netanyahu is also calculating that he can win a fourth term in office.

Opinion polls give a mixed picture, indicating that many people blame him for the current crisis but that at the same time, if elections were held today, his right-wing Likud party would increase its share of seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

However, people feel there is a range of problems that are not being dealt with, such as a faltering economy, recent attacks against Israelis in Jerusalem and this summer’s inconclusive war against Hamas militants in Gaza.

Netanyahu blasts ‘putsch’

Netanyahu told reporters Tuesday that a divided government was one of Israel’s problems, saying there was a lot of debate, contradictions and ultimatums.

He called out Livni for meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas against his advice and for criticizing building in Jerusalem, which some say has exacerbated tensions with Arabs there.

And Netanyahu lambasted Lapid for calling Israel’s boycott of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s U.N. speech a mistake and challenging his push to label Israel a Jewish state, which some fear will alienate the country’s significant Arab population. He also accused the ministers of being behind talks “to kick out the prime minister.”

“In one word, they call this a putsch,” Netanyahu said. “You cannot have a government like this. It’s impossible to govern like this.”

‘Narrow political interests’

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Livni said, “The question in the election will not be who was the first to identify the threats and use them for political means, but who will deal with the threats in a responsible, level headed manner for the good of the country.”

Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party also fired back in a statement, in which it said Lapid told Netanyahu by phone that he expected the Prime Minister “to act responsibly and to stop dragging the (Israeli military) and our soldiers into an election for your political needs.”

Yesh Atid said that “unnecessary elections … will harm the economy and Israeli society, all for narrow political interests and a surrender to the ultra-orthodox parties, the powerful central committee of the Likud and outside lobby groups.”

Ben Wedeman and Michael Schwartz reported from Jerusalem, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN’s Greg Botelho contributed to this report.