Israel is facing the possibility of its second election in less than a year as efforts to form a governing coalition look set to fail.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party won 35 seats in the April election and has been trying to reach an agreement with right-wing, far-right, and ultra-Orthodox party leaders.
These people would usually be his allies, meaning he could have expected a 65-55 majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
But they are divided on a bill that would require ultra-Orthodox men to serve in the country’s defence forces.
Avigdor Liberman, who leads the secular-right wing party Yisrael Beitenu, says ultra-Orthodox men must serve just like all other Israeli men.
But ultra-Orthodox parties say they should be excluded from military service as they have been since 1948.
Mr Lieberman – a former Netanyahu aide and staunch nationalist but otherwise a political wildcard – has said: “The draft law has become a symbol and we will not capitulate on our symbols.”
Without him, Mr Netanyahu has no majority.
The main opposition party, Blue and White, also controls 35 seats but has ruled out any alliance with Mr Netanyahu.
Mr Netanyahu has only 42 days from his election win to announce a new government and that deadline expires on Wednesday.
Parliament gave the dissolution bill preliminary approval on Monday but a final vote must take place and that is unlikely to be before Wednesday.
After that development, Mr Netanyahu said there was still time to resolve the crisis and that talks would continue.
He added: “much can be done in 48 hours.”
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Israelis protested in Tel Aviv during the weekend against proposed legislation that would grant Mr Netanyahu immunity from prosecution on a series of corruption charges.
The demonstrators said the coalition Mr Netanyahu is seeking will also push for laws that restrict the power of the Supreme Court.
In February, Israel’s attorney general decided to indict Mr Netanyahu on corruption charges.
The leader is suspected of accepting gifts, including cigars and champagne, from wealthy businessmen and dispensing favours in return for favourable media coverage.
He could face up to 10 years in jail if convicted of bribery and a maximum three-year term for fraud and breach of trust.