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Labor Party head resigns as Israel lurches to new elections

Last Updated Dec 23, 2020 at 10:12 am EST

FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2008 file photo, Amir Peretz who was Israel's Defense Minister during Israel's war in Lebanon in 2006, speaks during a press conference in Tel-Aviv, Israe. Labor Party head resigns as Israel lurches to new elections. Peretz, the current head of Israel’s Labor Party announced Wednesday, Dec.23, 2020, that he will not seek reelection as leader of the former ruling party as the country heads to the polls for the fourth time in two years. Elections were triggered at midnight Wednesday after the country's bitterly divided coalition government failed to pass a budget. (AP Photo/Moti Milrod, File)

JERUSALEM — The head of Israel’s Labor Party said Wednesday he will not seek re-election as leader of the former ruling party as the country enters its fourth election campaign in two years.

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, dissolved at midnight after the government failed to pass a national budget for 2020 amid bitter coalition disputes between its two main partners, the Likud and Blue and White parties.

Israel now heads to its fourth national election since March 2019 while facing a runaway coronavirus outbreak, a devastating economic crisis, and a prime minister on trial for corruption. New elections will take place on March 23.

Amir Peretz, head of the once-mighty Labor Party, which helped found the state of Israel and ruled in its first three decades, announced that he would step down as party leader.

Despite repeated campaign pledges not to do so, Peretz joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unity government in May and served as economy minister. The move led the already troubled party to lose many of its remaining supporters.

“At this time the Labor Party needs to undergo renewal and choose a new chairman and new leadership for itself,” Peretz wrote on his Facebook page.

Recent polls have projected that Labor will not break the electoral threshold required to win seats in the Knesset, a stunning downfall for the once mighty party.

The Labor Party shake-up is just the beginning of what is likely to be a shakeup of the Israeli political landscape ahead of the March elections. Defence Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, riven with infighting, appears on the verge of collapse.

Netanyahu’s biggest challenge, meanwhile, appears to be coming from ideologically similar right-wing rivals who have broken away from Likud due to personal differences with the prime minister. On Wednesday, junior Likud lawmaker Sharren Haskel resigned from parliament to link up with the nascent party formed by Gideon Saar — a former Netanyahu ally who bolted Likud earlier this month to form his own party.

Haskel is just one of a growing number of breakaway Likud lawmakers joining forces with Saar as he seeks to oust the long-serving prime minister from office.

The Associated Press