WASHINGTON - Israel moved closer to new parliamentary elections Tuesday as lawmakers voted in favor of the first of three procedural moves necessary to dissolve the current parliament.
The 66 to 44 vote set a tentative date of September 17 for a new election, if the measure makes it through the final two rounds of voting.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been unable to form a new government since his party won the most seats in an election last month.
He has until Wednesday to reach a coalition deal with other parties or risk having Israel's president give someone else a chance to form a coalition government. Netanyahu is unlikely to allow that to take place, preferring to take his chances in a new election.
His prospective coalition has been thrown into turmoil by former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, sometimes a Netanyahu ally and sometimes a rival.
Lieberman has demanded passage of a new law mandating that young ultra-Orthodox men be drafted into the Israeli military, like most other Jewish men, while Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies have called for the current draft exemptions to remain in place.
In a statement late Monday, Netanyahu called for his potential coalition partners to put "the good of the nation above every other interest" to avoid what he said would be "expensive, wasteful" elections.
?The Israeli leader said he was hopeful that a compromise could be forged before the late Wednesday deadline for him to form a new government.
But he acknowledged, "Unfortunately, I haven't been able to convince Lieberman to avoid another election. The reality is that we must be responsible and form a government immediately."
Netanyahu cannot form a government without the five seats of Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party.
"The draft law has become a symbol, and we will not capitulate on our symbols," Lieberman said, vowing to press for new parliamentary elections if his demand is not met.
Ultra-Orthodox parties consider military conscription a violation of their religious beliefs, fearing that military service will lead to secularization. But such exemptions from military service are widely resented by other Jewish Israelis.
Some Likud adherents say that Lieberman is motivated by his personal spite for Netanyahu, but Lieberman says he will not give in to religious coercion.
"I will not be a partner to a Halachic state," he said, using the word for Jewish law.